The ABC Television Network series Speechless will be honored with the 2017 Annie Glenn Award by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), the association announced. ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 191,500 members and affiliates who are audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language, and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students.
Named for Annie Glenn, advocate and wife of astronaut John Glenn, the award honors those who have made a positive impact on the lives of people with communication disorders. Speechless is produced for ABC by Twentieth Century Fox Television.
Annie, who experienced a severe stutter well into her adult years, has worked for roughly 40 years as a champion for people with speech, language, and hearing disorders.
Speechless is described as an ABC family comedy that centers on a 16-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, and his dysfunctional, yet lovable, family. The character, JJ DiMeo, is nonverbal and uses an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device to communicate. The actor who portrays him, Micah Fowler, also has cerebral palsy.
The show’s creator, Scott Silveri, grew up with a brother with cerebral palsy who was nonverbal. According to the announcement, the show is reportedly one of very few in the history of television to feature a character with a disability in a lead role. Among them, Speechless is especially unique in that it is a comedy.
Reflecting on the show’s impact, Annie noted, “It really is remarkable that a show like [Speechless] is on TV these days. Years ago, an individual with a disability would never have been a lead character in such a funny show. Think about how many people now understand that people who use different ways to communicate are the same as you and me. And that TV family is just as silly as your own family. I think that gives a lot of hope to families out there dealing with some struggles and trying to figure out their next steps. Nothing is bigger than the family working together.”
“We at ‘Speechless’ are honored and deeply gratified to be this year’s recipient of ASHA’s Annie Award,” said Silveri. “‘Speechless’ is a show about communication: between parents and their kids, between brothers and sisters…but on a more literal level, between one non-verbal young man and the world around him as he strives to find what each of us wants—a way to be heard.
“Immersing ourselves as we have in the world of speech and alternative communication has been a revelation for our writers, cast, and crew—one that has changed every one of us. But we do our work in a world of make-believe. As such, we are humbled to be recognized by ASHA, a body of pioneers and tireless advocates who offer real-world solutions. We celebrate ASHA for the work they do, and thank them for this generous recognition. We will continue to strive to tell stories that are worthy of this honor,” Silveri said.
“We are thrilled to recognize the show ‘Speechless’ with our 2017 Annie Award,” said Gail Richard, PhD, CCC-SLP, 2017 ASHA president. “As a prime-time comedy on a major television network, ‘Speechless’ has a tremendous platform to raise awareness and understanding of people who communicate in a manner that is different from the norm. We hope its success will encourage the inclusion of more characters and stories in the media and entertainment industries that showcase the unique experiences and capabilities of people with communication and related disorders.”
The award will be presented to Speechless actors Fowler and Cedric Yarbrough at an evening ceremony on Friday, November 10, 2017, at the ASHA Annual Convention at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The presentation of this prestigious award is an annual highlight of the professional conference, which regularly draws approximately 15,000 attendees—largely audiologists and speech-language pathologists.
First awarded in 1987, past recipients of the “Annie” include former Vice President Joe Biden, James Earl Jones, Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly, Julie Andrews, Jane Seymour, Bob and Lee Woodruff, Bill and Willie Geist, and The King’s Speech screenwriter David Seidler.