A. Lynn Williams started her career by opening a speech and language clinic in her West Virginia community of coal miners at 23. Since then, she’s traveled the world and is now ASHA’s new president — and her CCCs have been with her the whole time.
Born and raised in the coal camp community of Tams, West Virginia, A. Lynn Williams never takes her personal and professional journey for granted. Every opportunity along the way has been “a privilege,” including her most recent role as the 2021 President of ASHA.
“Every time I accomplished something new, my mom would express great pride saying the accomplishment could not have been imagined for a little girl from Tams,’” she recalls. “I’m just so grateful for the doors that have opened throughout my life,” whether it was becoming the first member of her family to go to college or going to New Zealand as an Erskine Fellow at the University of Canterbury or holding her current positions as an academic dean and professor at East Tennessee State University.
After shadowing a speech-language pathologist in high school, Williams enrolled at West Virginia University and set her sights — “like a laser,” she says — on pursuing that same career path. She finished her bachelor’s degree in three years, and opened the first speech and language clinic at the hospital near her hometown in Beckley, West Virginia. It was because of her CCCs that the hospital entrusted her with such a big responsibility, one that she felt prepared to take on.
“I’m as proud of my CCCs as I am of any of my degrees,” Williams says. “Throughout my career, the CCCs have served as a stable and steady professional foundation for service delivery. My certification has been reassuring evidence of my commitment to my profession, which isn’t lost on clients, students, patients and their families.”
When Williams started her clinic, several of her patients worked in coal mining, a major industry in West Virginia, and had suffered from laryngeal cancer, which required a laryngectomy to learn a new way to speak. Unfortunately, they hadn’t had access to care and services in the hospital to regain that ability before. Williams recalls one occasion when a patient on his way to the operating room for his laryngectomy after saying goodbye to his family turned to her and said, “You’ll be the last person to hear my voice.” Confident in her abilities and their upcoming work together, she responded, “And I’ll be the first person to hear your new voice.”
“If I hadn’t gone through all the steps of getting my CCCs to make sure I was confident and practicing the latest techniques, then I wouldn’t have been able to have such a positive impact on people’s lives,” she says.
Williams is keenly aware of how the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged audiologists and SLPs across the country in new ways. It has forced them to be innovative and draw from their education and training like never before.
“The CCCs give you those critical thinking skills for handling something like this pandemic,” she says. “I’m so proud of what our certified professionals have done and how they have met this challenge and grown.”
The demands of the pandemic have also forged new opportunities for accessing care, especially through teletherapy, Williams says. For example, before the pandemic, some of the clients at the university clinic where Williams does research would drive more than an hour each way for their children’s appointments; parents would even forgo their lunch breaks and use them at the end of the day so they could leave early and take their kids to their sessions. All of that has changed — and, in some respects, for the better.
At the university clinic, Williams has witnessed the benefits of teletherapy. By seeing clients in their environments and working with their parents through the screen, certified speech-language pathology supervisors, along with student clinicians, can better coach them in real time. This glimpse into their clients’ personal settings allows them to best serve them.
“The CCCs make us lifelong learners and critical thinkers, and that’s exactly what this pandemic taught us to do,” she says. “And, once the pandemic ends, I don’t want us to bounce back — I want us to bounce forward by taking everything we’ve learned and applying it.”