Would you believe us if we told you that over 2 million Americans have aphasia, and yet most people have never even heard of it?
It’s true. Nearly 9 out of 10 people say they have never heard the term ‘aphasia’, and less than 1 in 10 can identify it as a language disorder, according to the National Aphasia Association (NAA). Although those of us in the disability services industry may know what aphasia is and how it affects communication, this societal lack of understanding highlights the need for greater awareness and education efforts.
That’s why each June, the NAA brings together a wide array of public and private organizations to host events, share information, and spread the message about aphasia during National Aphasia Awareness Month.
We’ve rounded up a list of ways you can participate, but first, let’s look at how Aphasia Awareness Month came to be.
Aphasia is defined as “an impairment of language, affecting the production or comprehension of speech and the ability to read or write”. It is caused by an injury to the parts of the brain that are responsible for language. Strokes are the most common cause of aphasia, but it may also be the result of traumatic brain injury, brain tumor, infection, or degenerative disease. People who have aphasia may substitute one word for another, or write sentences that don’t make sense.
The condition was first studied and described by physicians Paul Broca and Carl Wernicke in the mid-1800’s — although cases of language impairments due to brain injuries are recorded as far back as Egypt in 3000 B.C.
We’ve come a long way since then. Today, we know more about what causes aphasia and how to treat it— but aphasia continues to be a widely misunderstood condition. This needs to change so that people with aphasia can work, socialize, and be part of the community more easily.
Participating in National Aphasia Awareness Month can help promote understanding and pave the way for better communication for people with aphasia. Here are seven ways to get involved:
The NAA, a non-profit organization which was founded in 1987, works on both the state and national level to promote research and advocate for legislative policies that improve the lives of people with aphasia. The NAA is also working with other organizations to host events, sponsor support groups, and provide resources to people with aphasia and their caregivers. The Association also promotes awareness all year long through its informational website www.aphasia.org and weekly articles.
As we mentioned earlier, most people have never even heard the term ‘aphasia’. This lack of awareness can lead to misunderstandings and make it harder for people with aphasia to navigate daily life. During the month of June, the NAA is asking people to share this simple message on their social media accounts:
#2million have aphasia and lost all or some ability to use words. Help @NatAphasiaAssoc spread #aphasiaawareness: http://bit.ly/2s8erog
They have also created a helpful visual that you can share with your followers.
Unless you’ve experienced it for yourself, it can be difficult to understand what it’s like to have aphasia. That’s why Voices of Hope for Aphasia has created some online aphasia simulations. These simulations allow family members, caregivers, employers, and the community to experience first-hand the impact of aphasia on communication. This in turn can help increase awareness and empathy.
Another way to learn more about what it’s like to have aphasia is to read books about people with this condition. And for individuals with aphasia, a book club can be a great way to get back into reading. Audiobooks or e-readers can help accommodate individuals with aphasia and other reading difficulties. Here are some books to consider for the month of June:
Over 225,000 people in the US are diagnosed with aphasia each year, including many celebrities and famous people. Earlier this year, the family of Die Hard actor Bruce Willis announced that he would be stepping away from acting following an aphasia diagnosis. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords recently wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post about her experience with aphasia after being shot in Tucson, AZ, in 2011. Other celebrities who have had aphasia include Dick Clark, Sharon Stone, and Emilia Clarke. Sharing their stories can help shed light on this little-known condition.
How much do you know about aphasia? The NAA has designed an aphasia awareness quiz to test your knowledge. The quiz is 10 questions long and takes about 3 minutes to complete. Once you’re finished, share the quiz with your friends and family so they can put their knowledge to the test.
Knowing some simple communication strategies like the ones on this poster from the NAA can help you communicate effectively with people with aphasia. Even if you’re already familiar with some of these strategies, it’s a great refresher when you are speaking with someone with aphasia. The poster is easy to print and share in your workplace and with local businesses, employers, and caregivers.
Whether you share facts and stories on social media or learn some aphasia communication strategies this month, your efforts will help raise awareness and promote understanding of this little-known condition. For more disability-related events and observances you can participate in all year, download our free Disability Events Calendar.
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