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Exhibit Heartens Those Who Struggle to Speak

A project organized by a speech pathology student at the MGH Institute of Health Professions helped clients with aphasia become more confident in their ability to communicate.

An exhibition at the showcases photographs taken by people whose ability to understand or express speech has been lost because of brain damage. 

The showcase, “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Photography As Communication for People with Aphasia,” comprises the work of eight people, aged 40 to 65, who have had strokes and receive treatment for aphasia at the institute’s speech therapy center. 

Student Elizabeth Bihn, 25, held photography workshops for the participants and arranged the exhibition after attending a presentation by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association that endorsed such treatment.

Every week Bihn would give her clients an assignment, like taking portraits of people they knew. For that assignment, one woman went beyond the guidelines and decided to also photograph strangers on the street, though she struggled to introduce herself and to ask them to pose.

“I think that just showed her bravery and attention to what’s going on around her,” Bihn said.

Each client chose six photographs to include in the exhibition, which covers the first floor of the clinic. Pictures by a man named Richie depicted a boy smiling at him, a tree in a backyard, the stems of a plant, moss stretching over a sidewalk and a stone path through a garden.

Publicly displaying the project made clients feel proud of themselves, Bihn said. During the opening reception, she said that after telling one of the photographers that she had done excellent work, the woman responded, “Yes, I know.”

“These are people for whom others don’t necessarily take the time to understand,” Binh said. “They’re showing their intelligence and humanity. That sense of pride, I wanted them to have that.”

The exhibition runs through Aug. 11 at the MGH Institute of Health Professions, at 36 1st Ave., in the Navy Yard. 

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