It was the summer of 1992, and Thomas David Kehoe was down in the dumps. Despite outstanding academic credentials-a degree from Reed and a freshly minted M.B.A. from the University of Chicago-he couldn't get a job. After almost 50 interviews, he had no job offers. "A friend of mine got a job in New Jersey marketing rat poison. I wasn't sure whether to be envious or not," remembers Kehoe.
There was no big mystery about Kehoe's employment troubles. He stuttered so severely that normal conversation was almost impossible. Desperate for work, he swallowed his pride and began working as a temp.
Three weeks later, a mal-functioning telephone changed his life.
While making a routine customer call, Kehoe heard an echo of his own voice on the telephone. It forced him to slow his speech down and eliminated his stutter. "I want my telephone to do this all the time," Kehoe recalls thinking.
For the first time in his life, Kehoe was able to hold a normal conversation, and the experience blew his mind. "I felt like all my life I'd been in prison, and now I was free," he later wrote. "I'd learned that stuttering wasn't just a speech disorder. Stuttering was pain, frustration, menial jobs, accomplishments that were ignored, disrespect from strangers, people that wouldn't return my calls, friends that never asked me to go out with them."