I am privileged to write in support of the documentary Speechless, which is directed by Guillermo Fernández Flórez. Blending emotional with factual content, this film reveals the everyday impact of aphasia on the lives of survivors and their families in ways that are rare in American media.
Indeed, despite the prevalence of Aphasia (the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke estimates that approximately 1 million people, or 1 in 250 in the United States today, suffer from it) there is much lower frequency of occurrence of the Word “Aphasia” in US newspapers compared to comparable conditions, like Parkinson’s disease, despite the fact that aphasia occurs more often (Elman, R., Ogar, J., & Elman, S. (2000). Aphasia: Awareness, advocacy, and activism. Aphasiology, 14, 455-459).
Media attention presumably reflects the level of public awareness. Chris Coda,. A leading scholar of aphasia, wrote: “In the English-speaking countries, we found that between 10% and 18% said they had Heard of aphasia, but only between 1.5% and 7.6% had even some basic knowledge of aphasia” (Code, C., Simmons-Mackie, N. et al. (2001). The public awareness of aphasia: An international survey. The International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 36, 1-5). Awareness of aphasia has not improved significantly in the yars following Code’s survey (Flynn, L. Cumberland, A., Marshall, J. (2009). Public knowledge about aphasia: A survey with comparative data. Aphasiology, 23, 393-401).
This documentary homes in on what it means to have aphasia by following three individuals –stroke survivors- as they and their families confront rehabilitation, childbirth, parenting, social disconnection an reconnection, and more. In the context of the lives of these individuals and those of their families, this film also provides the viewer with basic information about the causes of aphasia and about the many ways in which aphasia has been misconceived during the course of human history.
In my view, Mr. Flórez has created a work that, given the exposure it deserves, can contribute materially to the public awareness of aphasia. It is an emotionally compelling production that will engage, educate, and sensitize viewers to their neighbors with aphasia. Through that sensitization, this work has the potential to help people with aphasia to re-engage with their lives.
Robert Volin, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
New York Medical College – School of Helath Sciences
and Practice and Institute of Public Health