Job Title: Speech language pathologist, Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital; PhD candidate, University of Alberta
Why She’s Top 40: She’s helping transgender individuals find their voices
Transgender individuals often have many steps in their transition journeys, from hormone injections to surgeries, but there’s one aspect that many people forget about – the way you communicate. “Especially in situations where it’s just a voice that’s being perceived, going through the drive-thru or answering the phone, those are the only cues that people have,” says Teresa Hardy. “I’ve had a lot of clients say that ‘as soon as I talk, I’m outed.'”
That’s why Hardy’s focus, both when she’s working with patients at a clinical level and when she’s researching the latest trends in her field, is on helping transgender individuals find voices that match how they want to be perceived. The process is complex, and involves a hierarchy of steps such as humming or reading aloud, watching the sound waves of your voice through a program and making adjustments. Hardy helps her clients make small changes such as raising the pitch of their voices, changing the resonance and more. “It’s learning new behaviours – and behaviours take a lot of repetition to solidify,” says Hardy. Even with dedicated practice, it takes about six months to a year for most individuals to settle into voices they’re comfortable with.
Hardy is also working on a project, Talking the Talk and Walking the Walk, that is using technology to analyze gestures and voice and determine whether they’re perceived as masculine or feminine – more information to help her clients put forth identities to the world that align with how they view themselves.
Hardy admits that when she started exploring the possibility of providing speech-language pathology services to the transgender community, there wasn’t much at all being written about the issue. “When I started in 2005, there was half a page in my textbook from my voice class, and I think three articles that I could find,” says Hardy. “Now, there’s been a relative explosion… there is incredible potential for discovery and opportunity for leading edge research that can make a real difference in the lives of the members of the community.”