Sister Act A choral singer, ASHA’s new president hopes to synch the association’s many voices to reach new heights. Features
Features  |   January 01, 2015
Sister Act
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Augmentative & Alternative Communication / Professional Issues & Training / ASHA News & Member Stories / Features
Features   |   January 01, 2015
Sister Act
The ASHA Leader, January 2015, Vol. 20, online only. doi:10.1044/
The ASHA Leader, January 2015, Vol. 20, online only. doi:10.1044/
Back in high school, Judith Page thrived on lively debate and thought she might end up a lawyer or journalist—professions friends and family suggested she pursue. Then she discovered speech-language pathology at the University of Minnesota and knew she’d found her calling: Later she would help pioneer alternative and augmentative communication approaches, and develop and direct new training programs in the professions.
She’s also been president of the Kentucky Speech-Language-Hearing Association—and the all-female choral group, SisterSound.
Oh, and this Renaissance woman’s about to add another presidency to the list: that of ASHA president, 2015.
Is she ready for the job? Up to the task of leading the association’s 170,000-plus diverse, energetic and—yes, let’s admit it—vocal members and affiliates? Remember, this is a woman who enjoys a good debate. We think she can handle it.
Let’s start at the beginning: Why did you decide to pursue a speech-language pathology career? Was there an “aha” or magic moment?
I was looking for something where I thought I could make more of a difference [than in law or journalism]. I remembered that my brother had attended speech therapy sessions at a university clinic when we were much younger … I remember peeking in mirrors and looking at what was happening and being a little bit jealous because I didn’t get to do this. So I located a couple of SLPs who let me come and observe them. One was in a private program with kids with severe disabilities. And I it felt like the right thing for me to do. It led me to the population where I focused my engergies in the long term, doing clinical work first and then moving into academia.
So your brother had received speech-language services?
Yes, starting as a preschooler. Nothing severe—he was one of those kids that people have trouble understanding. He had multiple articulation errors. I didn’t know it then, but he probably had a phonological processing disorder: stopping, gliding, weak syllable deletion. He’s three years younger than I am, and I could usually understand him, so I was sometimes his self-appointed interpreter. It was thanks to him that I even got an inkling that this profession existed and what an impact we can have.
And the treatment helped him?
Yes. Within a year or so he didn’t have any residual errors, so I saw him clearly benefit.
How did you get interested in AAC in particular?
The interest in AAC happened when I took my first job in the schools in Minnesota. They asked if I would work with students with intellectual disabilities. We started doing some basic sign and gesture communication with our students and were seeing some progress. I had been in that job for three years when I ran into one of my mentors from my [University of Illinois] master’s program—John Locke—at the ASHA convention, and he said, “When are you going back to school, Judy?”
I’d realized by then how much there was to be learned about providing services to this population. And I thought, you know, it’s time to take him up on that and go back to school. So, I applied to the doctoral program at Purdue University and within a year, the two language faculty I planned to study with left the program. Shortly after that, two new faculty members—Macalyne Fristoe and Lyle Lloyd—arrived and began building an AAC program. So, just by good fortune, I ended up being in the right place at the right time.
When AAC started emerging, what was that like? Were you thinking, “Wow, this is a whole new way of reaching these kids?”
Oh yeah, it was. At the time, AAC was still pretty basic. People were realizing that sign language and other unaided strategies, although they certainly have a role, are not the only solution. Back then people were just starting to talk about pragmatics and using language in context. And we started looking at this population and saying, OK, people think these kids aren’t communicating. But look at the fact that they’re doing systematic things to get what they want. You know, the kid who doesn’t like peas, and he can’t tell you he doesn’t like peas, but you give him a plate of peas and he starts flipping those peas off the plate and onto the floor. Don’t tell me he’s not communicating something.
He’s sending a message, alright.
Yeah. So we started looking at how you take those idiosyncratic behaviors and shape them into communication that’s more socially acceptable and universally understood.
That’s great background on where you’re coming from. Let’s look at where you are now. How is it you’ve assumed so many academic leadership positions? And was that intentional?
No. When I was hired, the University of Kentucky had a relatively small [communication sciences and disorders] program with a small faculty. We were part of the Department of Special Education. Right after I had been tenured, the chair of the Department of Special Education went on sabbatical, and I was chosen by the department to be the acting chair, which surprised me because I was newly tenured and not a special educator. But I enjoyed it, and shortly afterward took over as program director. Then our program got transferred into the College of Health Sciences, where we became part of a new Department of Rehabilitation Sciences. I was asked to be the first chair of that department and, for several years, served concurrently as the CSD program director. That was a lot of administration at once.
I’m not quite sure how you did all that.
I’m not sure, either. But I did what many people who do administration in academia do: I put my heart and soul into that and put some of my other goals on the back burner. When I took over, our program had four full-time faculty and seven or eight graduate students each year, and we now have a faculty of 10 and about 35 first-year students each year. Our program also provides the inpatient and outpatient services for the University of Kentucky Hospital, with 13 SLPs, and a voice and swallow clinic with five SLPs. We also helped start a rehabilitation sciences doctoral program, an interdisciplinary program for speech-language pathology, occupational and physical therapy, and athletic training. Certainly during the time that I helped lead it, our program grew from a small, kind of peripheral program, into a much bigger, more vital program, and I’m proud of all we’ve accomplished.
How have your academic leadership experiences leading and growing departments influenced your plans for your ASHA presidency?
What I’ve learned is that you need a good collaborative team to make things happen. To be effective, a good team needs a bunch of pieces: qualified members, a structure that works for you, and good administrative “nuts and bolts” that provide day-to-day support. You have to be good communicators. You have to learn to trust each other, because you’re mutually dependent. Respect makes a big difference: getting people who can be creative, critical thinkers, who can think about things other than the way they’ve always been. You have to be able to talk openly and trust that what you say will be used to better the whole.
Also important to a good team is having a good sense of perspective and a sense of humor, that let you say, “Yeah, this is important, but in the big scheme of things, is it really gonna make a difference if I do this today or tomorrow? Or, maybe this thing that I’m beating my head against the wall about is something I can back off from and come back to in a different way, and it’ll be alright.” Humor makes a big difference here. I’m a big believer in levity—as sometimes we just need to relieve tension and pressure.
It sounds like you want to bring team-building to your presidency. Would you speak to that?
The first thing you need for a good team is good people. We’ve got that in place. ASHA members do a good job of electing really wonderful people to the Board of Directors. Also, the staff in the ASHA national office are terrific and key members of the team. I believe in the whole idea of servant leadership: At the very core, the most important thing a leader does is be a servant to the team and help it do its work, and help it do that work effectively.
Agood leader is somebody who supports and appreciates the contributions of the team members, but doesn’t seek or take credit herself. I have a strong faith in the ability of a good team to do remarkable things, if nurtured and supported.
So, getting to the nitty-gritty of your presidential agenda, what’s at the top?
When you look around, there are so many areas in our professions facing change. Changes in health care service delivery, changes in the way things are funded, and changes in what’s expected of members who are working in education. New technology. Cutbacks or reallocation of resources. The Common Core State Standards. Changing demographics. Expectations for interprofessional practice. Whew! That’s just a start.
You can curl up in a corner and say I can’t deal with it, I don’t want to change, but you have to think about how you get yourself through that—to the point where you not only accept change, but you start welcoming it and taking advantage of it. I want all of us to be well-positioned to stay on the forefront of change, to give our members tools and strategies to handle it in a positive way.
We need to keep working on getting outcomes measures in place so we can document our value to consumers. We need to get treatment taxonomies in place so we can examine the effects of the services we provide and describe these services in a way that people can understand. We need tobe able to jusify and better promote our services. And we need to look at how we prepare new professionals to function in an environment where many of us who train them have never functioned ourselves.
As part of our work this past year, the ASHA Board of Directors developed a realistic vision for where the disciplines of speech-language pathology and audiology can be in the year 2025, which is ASHA’s 100th anniversary. The idea is to identify where we need to be headed so that we can plan strategically to ensure that we get there. That’s a really exciting opportunity.
Also, over the past couple years, we’ve had several ad hoc committees that have sent more than 113 recommendations to the Board in areas like supervision, interprofessional education, leadership development, and outcomes measurement. We’ve identified a blueprint for addressing those recommendations over the next several years.
We need to continue our legislative advocacy, to do everything we can to keep a seat at the table when decisions are being made. ASHA is doing some important things to help members follow the principles of evidence-based practice, such as the Practice Portal Evidence Maps and the new functionality for accessing evidence from ASHAWire
Here’s a question that should be near and dear to you: What’s the one thing in CSD education and training that you think needs to change the most?
I’m not sure I can say just one thing. [Laughs] One of the biggest stresses that programs face is how to adjust to the expanding scope of practice in our discipline. We’re cramming more and more into programs so students are broadly prepared, but because higher education is getting more expensive, and we’re sensitive to having students leave with huge debt, we’re loathe to add additional years or credits. Programs are struggling with that.
In addition, the changing landscape of how we deliver services should make us change the way we educate our students. Theoretically, if we believe in interprofessional practice, we should be doing more interprofessional education. But many of us are still working in our educational silos, and these are very difficult to break down. But it is critical that we continue to try. So that’s my sermon on higher education.
Moving into the more fun and carefree realm, what do you like to do in your spare time?
My actual family lives far away—in Minnesota and Texas—but I have a family of choice with whom I spend time. When I just want to relax and unwind, I like to read guilty-pleasure kinds of books like Alexander McCall Smith’s books. I also like to read biographies. But the thing that takes a lot of my time—about 19 years ago, I became a founding member of a women’s community chorus, SisterSound. We started with about 10 people, and we are still going strong, now with 35 members. Next year, 2015–16, will be our 20th anniversary season.
We perform two concerts each year. We’re a very do-it-yourself kind of group. We hire a director, select our own music and do all our own production. We sing some pop music, some serious music, some silly things. Our overall goal is to sing music that’s supportive of women. Over the years, I have been involved at all levels. I’ve been president, selected music, helped with production and led the second soprano section. I’m sort of the mother hen for that section.
Every Sunday night we sing for two-and-a-half hours and it does wonderful things for my psyche. It changes my energy level. I can come into a rehearsal exhausted, and leave refreshed and ready to launch into the week.

Day job: Associate professor in the Division of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Kentucky, where she has been director of the Communication Sciences and Disorders Program and chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences.

Passion: Helping people better connect and harmonize, whether professionally or on stage.

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January 2015
Volume 20, Issue 1