Dear Cracker Barrel,
On October 25th, 2016, our friend Noah—a 16-year-old Camp SAY Camper who stutters—walked into the Cracker Barrel in Bardstown, KY to apply for a retail position, where he says he was met with disrespectful and discriminatory comments from employees because of the way that he talks. In addition to being hurtful, these comments appear to be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law in 1990 and amended in 2008 to ensure comprehensive protection to people with physical impairments, including speech disorders like stuttering.
We here at SAY: The Stuttering Association for the Young work to advocate on behalf of young people like Noah, who is a participant in our programs. SAY is a national non-profit organization with many different programs that serve our mission to empower, educate, and support young people who stutter and the world around them.
We have permission from Noah and his family to share Noah’s experience (detailed below), with the expectation that Cracker Barrel should make a formal apology and implement additional staff training with respect to stuttering and other differences of speech and language.
Noah arrived for his scheduled interview on October 25th, and as he spoke to an employee about why he was there, he had a block in his speech—he stuttered. The employee he was speaking to began to walk away before Noah could finish asking where he should go, after which Noah finished his introduction and was taken to meet with a manager for the interview. This interaction alone was simply rude. However, when the manager heard Noah stuttering during the interview, he made assumptions about Noah being “nervous,” labeled Noah’s speech a “handicap” and suggested that he interview to be a dishwasher instead because he “can’t work retail” due to the way that he speaks. The rest of the interview continued, but Noah felt disrespected and frustrated to be told that he would not even be considered for a customer service job because it takes him longer to speak than others.
Stuttering is an often-misunderstood communication disorder that affects over 70 million people in the world. Stuttering causes interruptions in a person’s speech, and may include unusual facial or body movements as well. But contrary to stereotypes and myths about stuttering, it is not caused by nervousness and does not have anything to do with a person’s intelligence. Sadly, people who stutter often face this sort of discrimination and stereotyping at school and in other social settings. But they should never experience it at a job interview with a major national restaurant chain. People who stutter can be adequate—or even exceptional—public speakers. As a case in point, Noah found out shortly after his Cracker Barrel interview that he was to be hired by another retailer with whom he had also interviewed in his job search.
Given Noah’s experience at the Cracker Barrel in Bardstown, we think it appropriate for Cracker Barrel to make a formal apology to Noah. Moreover, we strongly recommend that you consider working with SAY staff to develop additional training for your employees at that location, and on a broader managerial scale as well, to work for better interactions with and understanding of people who stutter or exhibit other speech differences. It is important to be aware of these differences, not just to fully comply with anti-discrimination law, but also to provide improved service to the broad range of customers that you serve.
Please reach out to us here at SAY for more resources and support in addressing these concerns (contact information below). We hope you recognize this as a serious matter, and that you will take this opportunity to demonstrate proactive leadership in the food service industry.
SAY Founder & President
(212) 414-9696 ext. 200
Ryan Millager, M.S. CCC-SLP
(212) 414-9696 ext. 205
Meg Hart, M.S.Ed.
Camp SAY Director
(212) 414-9696 ext. 206