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Amherstburg looking to become an aphasia-friendly community

Updated: May 22

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The Town of Amherstburg is looking to be one of the first aphasia-friendly communities in the world.


University of Windsor professors Lori Buchanan and Patti Weir appeared before town council on behalf of Aphasia Friendly Canada with elected officials agreeing to move the initiative forward and partner with Aphasia Friendly Canada.


Buchanan pointed out aphasia is a broad term for communication disorders ranging from word finding problems to complete inability to produce and understand speech and print.


“It’s typically the result of a stroke. Sometimes, it’s the first step in dementia,” said Buchanan. “It’s more common than people think. The classic kind of aphasia is problems with communication without cognitive problems. People can still think, they can still remember things, they are cognitively intact. They just have problems communicating.”


Buchanan said there are 2.75 million people in North America with aphasia but that number is growing. She said the disorder causes loneliness and isolation, noting people who are impacted by aphasia often have to go with someone to the pharmacy or to a restaurant in order to convey what they need or want.


“The lack of understanding is really the biggest problem facing people with aphasia,” she said. “Fortunately, this is a problem we can all do something about.”


Buchanan said they want Amherstburg to be the first municipality in the world to be aphasia-friendly. That would include working with businesses and individuals to understand what aphasia is, know how to deal with people with aphasia and provide support for people when people with aphasia enter their business.


“We are making this completely free to every business,” said Buchanan.


Amherstburg was selected because “there is a lot of tourism and locally owned businesses, and I think that’s easier than going to a bunch of chains.”


“Amherstburg has the right kind of feel to be the first place in the world to be aphasia-friendly,” said Buchanan.


Buchanan added accessibility advisory committee member Chris Drew suggested putting a sign at entrances to town advising that Amherstburg is aphasia-friendly.


“We offer all of the training. We’ll work with businesses to get all the materials they need,” she said. “It takes about 45 minutes to become aphasia-friendly. We’re offering this free-of-charge.”


Cities around the world - including as far as Japan, Switzerland, England, Lebanon, Italy, Germany and Pakistan – are also pursuing aphasia-friendly status.


“Our first stop is Amherstburg,” she said.


When a business becomes aphasia-friendly, they could put a sticker on their door advising people with aphasia that the business is equipped to help them.


“It’s easy to do. It takes very little time. The only thing it will cost is how much the employee would get paid for the 45 minutes to do it,” said Buchanan.


Mayor Michael Prue said he attended a recent course and received the training.


Prue noted he has a friend who has to communicate via his phone on what he is trying to convey as he has trouble speaking. He agreed with Drew’s suggestion about signage showing Amherstburg is the first aphasia-friendly community in the world.


Buchanan said training is given on the matter and the main thing is that phones work well, some people can write but the main thing is awareness of what aphasia is. She said “they just need a little more time and you work with them to give them that time.”


Councillor Diane Pouget asked how a person can get trained. Buchanan said there is an online version and in-person sessions are possible as well.


“We’d be happy to do it in person,” she said. “The online version is easy to do.”

Councillor Molly Allaire said she was happy the delegation came forward.


“Inclusivity is in our Strategic Plan and I would love to move forward with this,” she said.


“I think this is an important initiative and there is no cost to the town,” said Councillor Linden Crain. “I hope businesses get involved and I hope businesses and staff receive a certificate.”


Administration will make use of communication tools and partnerships with the business community to spread the word and look forward to providing opportunities for training.


Aphasia training is available at https://aphasiafriendlycanada.ca/services/

Amherstburg looking to become an aphasia-friendly community

By Ron Giofu

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