From fashion to phonemes: No magazine is off-limits for blog ideas for the Speech Dudes, Russell Cross (left) and Chip Clarke.
Name: Russell Cross
Position: SLP at Prentke Romich Co., manufacturer of augmentative and assistive communication devices.
Hometown: Wooster, Ohio
Name: Chip Clarke
Position: SLP and owner of Assistive Technology Works, Inc., an assistive technology vendor.
Hometown: Staunton, Va.
Ever wonder about the "edgy side" of speech-language pathology? Are you surprised that it even exists? You wouldn't be if you followed the banter of the Speech Dudes on their blog or on Twitter, "liked" them on Facebook or just ran into them during a professional convention.
Speech-language pathologists Russell Cross and Chip Clarke have created a "dudeverse" that explores their interests in topics such as technology, apps, alternative and augmentative communication, music, politics, family and even pet grammar peeves. Despite their locations—Cross in Ohio and Clarke in Virginia—the Speech Dudes blog, now two years old, is a collaborative platform for them and their followers, where they can talk about subjects of interest as if they were sitting in a pub over a few pints.
"It works out really well because I like to write and Chip is more of the type who is happy to make it happen," Cross says. And the result is nothing short of being educational and entertaining ("edutainment," as the dudes like to call it). Their latest blog posts range from an Orlando restaurant review after a long day of sessions at the 2013 Assistive Technology Industry Association conference; a discussion of why (oh, why?) the Oxford English Dictionary insists that the word "data" be treated as plural when it sounds so very singular; and why sometimes you get what you pay for when you download a free app.
So how did this beautiful collaboration begin? Their first meeting is admittedly fuzzy for both dudes, but there is consensus that it started in the late 1990s at a bar after a long day at an ATIA conference. They both were on a quest for a beer and got to talking.
It turned out that despite the 10-year difference in their ages (Clarke is 44 and Cross is 54), they had a lot in common, found each other immensely amusing, and had a lot to talk about regarding AAC, the niche they share. The night wore on, the conversation continued and meandered, and thus the seeds of the Speech Dudes were planted. That such a lasting friendship and substantial conversation would begin this way shouldn't be such a surprise, says Cross, because the Greek origin of the word "symposium" is "drinking session."
"The conversation outside conventions is where the good stuff is," Cross explains. "That's where you meet the best people and have the best conversations. A lot of what happens at a conference doesn't necessarily happen in sessions, but takes place outside, where it's relaxed and not so stuffy."
As the years and the friendship rolled on, Clarke and Cross continued their meandering conversation. When Clarke, who owns his own company—Assistive Technology Works, Inc.—began doing some consulting work for Cross's employer, Prentke Romich Company, the conversation went online in an internal employee distribution list. Meant purely for fun, its popularity spread, amd the two men decided to make it official and begin a blog. They toyed with some names and ultimately landed on the Speech Dudes.
But don't get the wrong idea, they say—being a speech dude isn't about gender, but more about attitude. "We didn't want to just be a couple of AAC guys who were writing a blog—that would be limiting. Being ‘dudes' allows us to talk about other topics not necessarily related to speech," Cross says. "We have varied interests and we didn't want to be cornered. Being a dude allows us to call things as we see it. If we were ‘Speech People,' for example, it wouldn't come across the right way."
And being males in an undeniably female-dominated profession hasn't shaken them in the least. Although both recall feeling a bit self-conscious with their clear minority status in their early days in the professions, they have since become somewhat gender-blind when it comes to the business side of speech-language pathology.
"Honestly, I just don't even see it anymore," Clarke says. "I mean, I know it's true and I figured that out pretty quickly on my first day of class in college, but since then it's mostly been a non-issue."
Both men have their own hobbies (Clarke is restoring an 1878 office building), families (Cross has recently become a grandfather for the second time) and careers, but hope to keep their dudeverse alive and even expanding. Although Cross has dreams of hosting a conference where there are no sessions, but only conversations outside of the nonexistent sessions (wait, what?), some more reasonable expansion options include creating dude "affiliates," revamping their website, creating an app, or even just including more people in their conversations.
"We have met some amazing people via social media and our blog," Cross says. "The group SLPeeps has proven to be invaluable. What we've come to realize is that although there's a lot of non-information on social media, if you are patient you can find some great stuff."