In 2014 I worked with a group called Norfolk Conversation Partners and the School of Rehabilitation Sciences at UEA on a video to explore and teach something called supported communication. This is a way of using simple tools and techniques to help create and maintain a channel of communication with a person living with aphasia.
Aphasia is a condition that often arises following a stroke. It affects a person’s control and comprehension of speech and language, and it makes speaking, listening, reading and writing much more challenging. As we were working on a project about the voices of people with aphasia, I felt that it wouldn’t work to script the film in the usual way, by writing lines; I would be putting words into the mouths of the cast members with aphasia, which was precisely not the point we wanted to make. So the vast majority of the dialogue in the film comes from things that the Conversation Partners themselves, people living with aphasia, had said to me during meetings or via email.
Experiencing aphasia can entirely change a person’s relationship with and approach to language. Poet Chris Ireland has aphasia, and as is evident in her book The Insight Story, the way she uses language is extraordinary. It’s expressive, clear, and refreshing. When we think of factors that affect people’s freedom to express themselves, we normally focus on the obvious; oppressive regimes and societies that severely limit expression. We don’t always remember the people who live in places where they are more or less free to voice their opinions, but face other barriers in terms of being heard. Imagine each sentence requiring intense effort. Would it change the things you say? Would it streamline your views and feelings? Would you be able to sustain the strength required to speak at all?