As a person with a disability, I have never appreciated a goal of increased awareness of disability on the part of others.
As a college student, I remember refusing an assignment in one of my classes, which was designed to increase our awareness of what it is like to live with a communication impairment. We were to assume one – stuttering, or lisping, or aphasia- and go out into the community, observing and documenting reactions. Similar exercises are performed in disability awareness classes, for which people assume the outer manifestations of life in wheelchairs, or people who are blind or deaf.
Almost universally, the non-disabled community sees these exercises as helpful. They experience temporary inconvenience, embarrassment, frustration, or anger. Then, they return to their previous state of wholeness, and supposedly are better able to understand life with these disabilities.
Truth is, one can never know what it is like, as Audrey Holland says, “to walk in aphasia moccasins,” just by trying on a pair.
More important, of what true value is an increase in “other” awareness of any condition? Does it lead to empathy, willingness to contribute to legislative improvements in services, ability to improve the life of those living with those disabilities?
I doubt it. Or at least, I doubt a lasting effect.
So why do we feel so strongly about Aphasia Awareness, and the month of June as its designated national goal?
Most of us believe in the power of awareness for change: that somehow, were people in general more aware of a bad situation, improved everything would follow. Is this the case for climate change? the lives of homeless people? those going hungry every day?
Awareness without action is not particularly laudable.
Yet, here I am, with an Aphasia Awareness month idea.
For the next few weeks, I’ll be posting brief entries on the blog: Aphasia Haiku, that have at their core, the relationship and reflection aspects of my work. Will it make you more aware? I doubt that. Moreover, I don’t care one way or the other.
It is merely another offering.
Have a taste.
Aphasia Awareness Haiku #1
I can see you.
If I cannot say your name,
Can you see me?