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Film ‘The Way We Talk’ to raise stuttering awareness in Iowa City


The Way We Talk: Screening and Discussion

FilmScene — Saturday, Oct. 22 at 2 p.m.

A movie event on Saturday will work to raise awareness and address social stigmas surrounding stuttering. The film, The Way We Talk, will be shown at FilmScene in Iowa City, with proceeds going towards scholarships for the University of Iowa’s summer program for kids and teens who stutter, UI SPEAKS.

The event includes a panel discussion with filmmaker Michael Turner and aligns with International Stuttering Awareness Day. Tickets are $10 ($5 for kids) and are available online.

Turner’s film is centered around a support group for people who stutter and narrated by the filmmaker, who unapologetically, almost defiantly, stutters as he narrates his journey towards accepting the way he talks.

“His voice, he stutters so beautifully,” said Hertsberg, a licensed speech language pathologist who is pursuing her PhD at the University of Iowa. “He could have easily edited out the stutter but he chose not to.”

Hertsberg said the message of the film aligns well with this year’s awareness day theme: Stuttering Pride.

“When working with people who stutter, the biggest challenge is how to cope with the emotional baggage, the feelings of isolation and self-esteem,” said Tricia Zebrowski, a professor in the University of Iowa Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. “This film speaks to a lot of that.”

Zebrowski and Hertsberg met Turner during a conference earlier this year. Hertsberg said she had actually contributed to Turner’s Kickstarter project, which raised $25,211 from 330 backers to help bring the project to the screen.

“I was really excited to get to meet him,” she said.

Stuttering affects roughly one percent of the population, which means many people may only know about stuttering through seeing it portrayed in movies and many kids who stutter may not know anyone else who speaks like they do.

Hertsberg, who stutters herself, said she there is a stigma surrounding stuttering in part due to the way it is portrayed in Hollywood. She said those who stutter are often portrayed as foolish or unintelligent. That stigma often impacts some of the kids who stutter.

“It’s detrimental because it affects what they end up doing with their lives,” Hertsberg said. “They are inundated with messages about how they can’t do a job that requires lots of talking.”

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She described stuttering as an iceberg, an analogy based on work by the speech pathologist Joseph Sheehan. Although some of the signs of stuttering, including repetitions, blocks and prolongations, are above the waterline and visible to all, other issues, including fear, embarrassment, shame and anxiety are hidden.

“In order to move forward in a more positive direction, there needs to be a change in how society sees those who stutter, and also a change in the message the we give to people who stutter,” she said.

Still, Zebrowski said society has come a long way in improving its understanding of stuttering, including a move away from solely focusing on efforts to hide or eliminate stuttering, which can sometimes lead to speech that feels unnatural.

“If you are someone who stutters, you can go to a speech pathologist and change the way you speak, but you don’t have to. And that’s okay. Stuttering is not a reflection of who you are,” Zebrowski said.

Hertsberg said it can be mentally exhausting to try to change the way you speak and efforts to enforce that change can come off as implying that someone isn’t good enough as they are. A skilled speech therapist can help make speech joyful for those who stutter, she said.

“The way you speak is so inherently part of who you are and how you see yourself,” she said.

Hertsberg has started an Iowa City support group for those who stutter that meets on the third Wednesday of each month in the lobby of the Wendell Johnson Speech and Hearing Clinic.

Those with questions about the group or about speech therapy are invited to reach out to Zebrowski or Hertsberg through email at: tricia-zebrowski@uiowa.edu or naomi-hertsberg@uiowa.edu.


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