‘I Stutter:’ Why Stutterers Need Us to Listen

Duke alumnus’ powerful video on stuttering wins News Emmy award

James Robinson at the News Emmy ceremony.

“I Stutter” has earned plaudits, most recently a News and Documentary Emmy Award for the New York Times. It is part of a series Robinson has done for the Times on disability issues and how the disability shapes the lives of the people living with them. Called “Adapt-Ability,” Robinson’s series attempts to help people overcome their discomfort with people who have disabilities.

The series, however, started as Robinson’s student project at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies (CDS). A 2020 graduate, Robinson was drawn to documentary storytelling in high school after visiting Duke and hearing Christopher Sims discuss the work of the center. After arriving at Duke, Robinson started making films about blacksmiths in North Carolina and Indigenous communities in Louisiana.

With encouragement from Sims and others at CDS, Robinson then turned to disability issues, beginning with himself.  He has a disabling eye condition that he calls “Whale Eyes.”

“Four years into my Duke experience, I was feeling pretty comfortable behind the camera—but in front of it, where my visual disability shone bright for all to see, I was nervous, scared and unsure of myself,” Robinson said “In my final semester at Duke, I took Chris Sims’ capstone Doc Studies class, where I found a comfortable environment, conducive to taking personal risk. It gave me the opportunity to explore this disability from all angles and in all of its emotions—playful, serious, jovial, somber and most importantly—vulnerable.”

“I Have Whale Eyes” by James Robinson for the New York Times

After graduation, Robinson revised “Whale Eyes” into a video opinion piece for the New York Times, which was the first video in the “Adapt-Ability” series. Subsequent works explored blindness, facial recognition blindness and, now, stuttering.

In his acceptance speech at the News Emmys, Robinson said he was proud of the series as an example of how journalists can bring change and highlight uncomfortable and hidden issues that affect many lives.

“I think as an industry we can do a better job of accurately portraying disability. And I think the best part is we already know how to do this. We know that when we hire disabled journalists and when we accommodate them to, our coverage improves. Our stories are more sensitive, and we reach a wider audience.”

Robinson is currently working on a memoir for Penguin Random House inspired by Whale Eyes. It will be released in 2025.