A Perspective-Shaping Convention The times were changing when ASHA last held its convention in the Mile High City. As the civil rights movement gained momentum nationally, the association saw that it, too, needed a change of heart. Features
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Features  |   August 01, 2015
A Perspective-Shaping Convention
Author Notes
  • Elizabeth Thompson Beckley is a freelance medical writer in Evergreen, Colorado. beckley_family@me.com
    Elizabeth Thompson Beckley is a freelance medical writer in Evergreen, Colorado. beckley_family@me.com×
Article Information
Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / ASHA News & Member Stories / Features
Features   |   August 01, 2015
A Perspective-Shaping Convention
The ASHA Leader, August 2015, Vol. 20, 42-45. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.20082015.42
The ASHA Leader, August 2015, Vol. 20, 42-45. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.20082015.42
Attendees at the 1968 Denver convention found themselves, along with the rest of the nation, in the midst of a politically, socially and culturally tumultuous time. Some wanted to go about their business without acknowledging the turbulence. Others led the charge to engage the association to take responsibility and get involved in issues they believed were affecting students and professionals in the discipline, as well as the people they served.
Reflecting on that pivotal year seems fitting as we move toward this year’s Denver-based 2015 ASHA Convention, set for Nov. 12–14 at the Colorado Convention Center and inspired by the theme, “Changing Minds. Changing Lives. Leading the Way.”
In January of the year Denver last saw an ASHA convention, the North Vietnamese army launched the Tet Offensive, and the U.S. body count continued to grow, contributing to the nationwide spread of anti-war sentiment and demonstrations. The women’s liberation and equal rights movement also gained traction, with symbolic boycotts and calls to burn bras.
The Civil Rights movement suffered a major blow on April 4 with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In June, Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy was shot and killed. Riots erupted during the Chicago Democratic National Convention in August.
Given that ASHA’s 1968 meeting happened in the wake of these events, the association’s Black Caucus launched a push there to achieve racial equality and cultural sensitivity and competency in research and practice. Then-ASHA President John Irwin gave up his presidential address to facilitate a debate about a professional association’s role in a society rocked by conflict. Orlando Taylor, then an assistant professor of communication and activist at Indiana University (and now director of the Post-Graduate Academic Leadership Certificate Program at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology), argued that ASHA must become socially responsible. John Michel, a professor of speech science at the University of Kansas (now retired), maintained that the association should not get involved in social or political causes. A 2009 ASHA Leader article chronicles these events.
Ida J. Stockman, professor emerita of communication disorders at Michigan State University, reflects on what happened: “What I got out of the 1968 debate was Taylor’s call for the association to not turn its back on how our field and its delivery of services were impacted by the changes going on in the 1960s. Back in those days, there was the illusion that we could practice our craft in the absence of any cultural and language variation.”
The quest for social justice had to do with communication and the children and adults who were misdiagnosed because of the language they spoke in their communities, Stockman explains.

“What I got out of the 1968 debate was Taylor’s call for the association to not turn its back on how our field and its delivery of services were impacted by the changes going on in the 1960s. Back in those days, there was the illusion that we could practice our craft in the absence of any cultural and language variation.”

“We had no tests that were sensitive to typical differences; whole classrooms of African-American children could be put into therapy to change their use of an ‘f’ sound instead of a ‘th’ sound in words such as ‘bath,’” she says. “Fortunately, there are now many more professionals talking about such issues, and the fact that their clients bring a variety of speech and cultural patterns with them when seeking services.”
Another who remembers the debates is M. Eugene Wiggins, who retired in 2008 from his position as director of the Speech-Hearing Clinic at the University of the District of Columbia. Wiggins wrote a book on the history of the National Black Association for Speech-Language and Hearing, an organization he co-founded and led as executive director from 1988 through 2002. He recalls how five leaders of the Black Caucus at the 1968 convention confronted ASHA’s policies and practices. They included Taylor, Charles Hurst Jr. of Howard University, Ernest Moore of the University of North Texas, the late R. Vernon Stroud of Barney Children’s Medical Center, and the late Ronald Williams of Ohio University.

“We had no tests that were sensitive to typical differences; whole classrooms of African-American children could be put into therapy to change their use of an ‘f’ sound instead of a ‘th’ sound in words such as ‘bath,’ Fortunately, there are now many more professionals talking about such issues, and the fact that their clients bring a variety of speech and cultural patterns with them when seeking services.”

These and other thought leaders worked with ASHA to effect the subsequent adoption of several inclusive measures: requiring ASHA affiliates to indicate that they are equal-opportunity employers; requiring all academic programs in the professions to include coursework in sociolinguistics with a focus on African-American history, language and strategies for teaching Standard English as a second dialect; and making sure ASHA does not hold conventions in cities where discrimination on the basis of race/ethnicity, sexual orientation and other factors is permitted. The concerns raised by the Black Caucus led to the creation of the ASHA Office of Urban and Ethnic Affairs, which evolved into ASHA’s current Office of Multicultural Affairs. Recent national social, economic and political events underscore the need for this office, Wiggins says.
Stockman agrees with the need to sustain vigilance in the charge to provide appropriate services in a fair and just manner, even as she celebrates the progress that has been made.
“In our quest to continue the work of taking down barriers—social, language and cultural barriers—we should not forget that we have made gains, and they have been hard-won gains,” Stockman says. “We shouldn’t rest on our laurels, but we can’t lose sight of the work that has been done and the people who made those gains possible.”

“In our quest to continue the work of taking down barriers—social, language and cultural barriers—we should not forget that we have made gains, and they have been hard-won gains.”

Changing the framework for research on minority groups has been one of the drivers of Stockman’s career. She served on the ASHA board that first recommended that all accredited speech-language and hearing programs include multicultural issues in the preparation of audiologists and speech-language pathologists. She applauds ASHA for stressing the need for research and evidence-based practice in this area.
“Taylor’s call in 1968 was for the association to not turn its back on how our field and its delivery of services were impacted by the changes going on in the 1960s,” Stockman says.
“The strides initiated in Denver in 1968 were a catalyst for the growth in ASHA’s multicultural commitment over the years,” says Vicki Deal-Williams, ASHA chief staff officer for multicultural affairs. “More than a third of Denver’s population are from groups long-considered racial/ethnic minorities. Like many cities, Denver needs professionals with considerable cultural competence to serve its increasingly diverse population with speech, language, hearing and related disorders.”
ASHA’s commitment to cultural and linguistic diversity has grown to recognize that every clinical encounter has cultural implications, and that cultural competence equates to clinical competence, Deal-Williams says. Through the work of ASHA’s Multicultural Issues Board; Special Interest Group 14, Cultural and Linguistic Diversity; the Office of Multicultural Affairs; and a number of multicultural constituency groups, ASHA has many resources available to members for increasing their cultural competence.
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August 2015
Volume 20, Issue 8