Shifting Focus: Empowering People with Aphasia to Participate in Community Activities

How do people with aphasia shift their focus and efforts from overcoming aphasia to engaging in activities that promote “living well with aphasia”?  At the Snyder Center for Aphasia Life Enhancement, (SCALE), we believe that focusing on “others” is a good place to start.  Some members of SCALE choose to participate in SCALE’s “Community Outreach” class that encourages them to get involved in the wider community through volunteer efforts.
Under the direction of Pam Cauley, SCALE’s Certified Therapeutic Recreational Specialist, and Adena Dacy, Speech-Language Pathologist, members have joined in projects developed by other non-profit organizations to restore the environment while educating others about aphasia. Below we describe a few of these efforts with the hope of inspiring other groups to do the same:

In 2009, SCALE members partnered with the Maryland Saltwater SportFishermen’s Association to help restore oyster beds in the Chesapeake Bay. Members assembled a cement reef ball at the Center. Later, they joined the fishermen on a boat to deploy the ball at the Middle River Reef Ball Site.

This year, in conjunction with the Maryland Department of Agriculture and Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks, SCALE members participated in the annual Baltimore Herb Festival.  Members assembled information boards and educational materials about aphasia and SCALE’s services to display at the Festival. They manned tables selling flowers and vegetable plants grown from seed by members of the Horticulture Program.  To help raise awareness, each potted plant held a picture marker that said, “Aphasia is NOT a plant….so what is it?”. The clever wording aroused interest and drew people in for a closer look to engage in conversations and learn more about aphasia and SCALE.

SCALE members also participated with the National Aquarium and the Department of Natural Resources in efforts to restore tidal wetlands through cleanups and grass plantings. For several months, members of SCALE’s Horticulture Program tended marsh grass seedlings that were grown in our greenhouse.  When the plants had matured, members accompanied staff from the National Aquarium to Westport, Maryland and helped to plant the grass along the shoreline.

Members of SCALE’s Horticulture Program have also contributed to the creation of the Healing Garden developed by Advocates for Survival or Torture and Trauma (ASTT). Seedlings grown in our greenhouse were donated to ASTT, and SCALE members offered suggestions to assure accessibility of the garden.  Members later attended the grand opening of the garden to celebrate with individuals from the ASTT community.

These activities produce tangible effects in the community, and they also have a positive impact on the lives of our members.  Rather than sitting at home, or requiring greater services, they are making a positive contribution to society. Some members are resuming activities that they participated in prior to their strokes, while others are exploring new interests.

At the same time, volunteers from our partner organizations have been spreading the word about their projects and about the people with aphasia who have helped them. A member of the Fishermen’s Association was so inspired that he wrote an article about the reef ball experience in the organization’s newsletter! A Humbling Experience – page 19

As Barbara Shadden noted in response to Chris Code’s September 29th Aphasia Corner post: “Sometimes increasing awareness is done one person at a time…  Maybe people living with aphasia could choose to educate one stranger a week…or a month… And I know that putting a face with the word “aphasia” helps people learn and understand”.  SCALE members strongly agree with Dr. Shadden and are making efforts to assure that their voices are heard in the Baltimore community!

To read more about all that SCALE is doing to support community outreach, check them out at

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