“And then it hit me”…isn’t that how all the best stories begin?
I had the pleasure of attending my first professional conference in early March of this year: The Aphasia Access Leadership Summit in Baltimore, Maryland, meeting and learning from pioneers of the Life Participation of Approach to Aphasia (LPAA). I was overwhelmed by the passion in the room targeted at improving communication access for all persons with aphasia. A major focus of the conference was effecting change at a systems level: how can we improve communication access for persons with aphasia within healthcare settings and how we can encourage all healthcare providers, not just speech-language pathologists, to embrace the ideology of supported communication. Dr. Nina Simmons-Mackie spoke so eloquently about the 2.5 million Americans living with aphasia and the staggering costs to society due to poor health literacy- for persons with aphasia. And then it hit me… Aphasia Gain: the benefit of supported communication for all.
Being a graduate student in the final semester of my program, I have had the opportunity to experience a wide variety of clinical settings in a short period of time. I was taking a break from my intensive semester focused on Auditory Verbal Training and Early Intervention at Nationwide Children’s Hospital to attend Aphasia Access. During Dr. Simmons-Mackie’s talk, I began thinking about my studies in American Sign Language with Deaf Studies. “Deaf Gain” is a term that was coined by Aaron Williamson in 2005 to describe the accommodations and modifications that benefit Deaf people that can also benefit society as a whole. From widened hallways to allow for communication and easier visual access to use of gestures within baseball games by the umpire, society as a whole can benefit from these communication supports. With “Deaf Gain” those with physical disabilities have easier access in hallways and all nosebleed season ticket holders know what call the umpire made.
This led me to the principles of supported communication in conjunction with the LPAA principles. Persons with aphasia and society as a whole can benefit from these ideologies…a new outlook of Aphasia Gain. These ideologies include using verbal and written instructions, simplified language, visual supports, increased wait time and use of body language and gestures to supplement spoken language communication. All of these tools allow persons with aphasia to better access the information being portrayed, but implementation of these strategies can truly do even more. These tools can benefit persons with traumatic brain injuries and dementia in which their memory can be impacted, giving them verbal and written feedback to increase carryover of therapeutic tasks. It can benefit those with low health literacy skills or low English proficiency in which visual support of images to supplement text and simplified language can increase comprehension. The benefits of these accommodations go beyond those with aphasia. Aphasia Gain can lead to equal communication access for all.
So, what is the potential impact? Who can truly benefit from the implementation and consistent use of communication that can be accessible to all?