Living with Aphasia
What I Know is Relevant
This post was inspired by a response to an article that appeared in the August 31, 2010, daily e-edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled “As Literacy Declines, Faculty Members and the Media Share the Blame.” It can be found on the CHE website at http://chronicle.com/blogPost/As-Literacy-Declines-Faculty/26619. The general tone of the CHE article reminds us that for years it has been fashionable in educational circles to decry students’ lack of communication skills, both verbal and written. However, the comment that really got under my skin was one which stated, “If you can’t communicate what you know, it is irrelevant.” My first reaction was to scream “WHAT I KNOW IS RELEVANT.” My comment, addressed to the individual referenced above, was “I’m sorry that I can’t communicate what I know to your satisfaction. However, right now that is due to something that is beyond my control. I suffer from Aphasia as a result of a traumatic brain episode. Please work with me and perhaps we can both learn something.” My second reaction to the article and other comments was to remember a song that I used to listen to on the 8-track tape deck that I had in my old pick-up truck. I could still remember some of the words of the chorus of Joe South’s hit: “Hey, before you abuse, criticize, or accuse, walk a mile in my shoes.” I looked up the lyrics of the song and I was pleasantly surprised at the lyrics of the first verse:
“If I could be you and you could be me for just one hour
If we could find a way to get inside each other’s mind
If you could see you through my eyes instead of your ego
I believe you’d be surprised to see that you’d been blind.”
This is the lesson that I would like others to learn. As we interact with others, before we summarily dismiss them when they have difficulties in communiation, we need to learn where they are, and from where they came. They may have legitimate communication challenges such as aphasia, dyslexia, or some other deficiency. We need to get to know them so that we can understand them and walk a mile in their shoes. We may be surprised at what we can learn from each other.
On my education blog, I am posting an essay with essentially the same ideas as the ones in this posting, but directed more specifically to educational settings. In that posting, I will suggest that some of my educational colleagues will accuse me of not understanding how important it is to judge all students against the same standard. Let me assure you that I have walked many miles in those shoes. I used to believe that all students had to be tested under the same conditions. I have since walked several miles in the shoes of a challenged individual. Aphasia is a communication deficiency. It does not affect intellect. It generally only affects the ability to communicate. This experience has completely changed my view of accommodations in educational settings. I now see how important they are. Institutions and individual faculty must not overlook or ignore appropriate accommodations for the students who need them. So sufferers speak up for yourselves and demand your rights. If you can’t speak up for yourself, your caregivers have a responsibility to be your spokesperson. Make sure that get all of the opportunities and accommodations that are due to you. It is not only your right, it is the law. However, I have also come to another conclusion that I will suggest in an upcoming blog, “It is impossible to legislate commitment. The best you can hope to get from legislation is minimal compliance.” Until the minds and hearts of the general public are changed, people with challenges will continue to be treated like second-class citizens, and most of the relevant knowledge they possess will be wasted. It took a traumatic brain episode to bring me to my senses. I hope and pray that others do not have to go through my experience, to realize what they are missing.