Sunday, July 14, 2024

Tactile art

First Published:

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Over the past two days, the Art Gallery of Hamilton has proven that a picture really is worth a thousand words. They teamed up with the Seniors Activation Maintenance program at Saint Elizabeth’s Rehab to provide tours and hands-on sessions to stroke survivors with aphasia.

The condition makes it difficult for people to both understand and communicate language. And while about one third of stroke victims have some degree of aphasia, it isn’t well understood. Vivienne Epstein, a speech-language pathologist at Saint Elizabeth’s, says people often misinterpret aphasia, “It’s hard to imagine that somebody can have complete intelligence and yet when you speak to them they don’t interpret the language.”

Because art is a visual medium, it’s a perfect pathway to reach out to people with aphasia. But a standard gallery tour contains challenges that can be embarrassing and isolating for people with aphasia. AGH educator, Laurie Kilgour-Walsh, says the goal of the speech friendly tours is to provide the same experience to people with communication difficulties that other patrons would get, “Typically in a gallery like this, there’s a lot to see and there’s a lot to talk about. So we could potentially communicate a lot of information, sometimes very quickly. And what we hope in a good tour is there’s a lot of opportunity for back and forth conversation.”

To facilitate that conversation, guides were given special training on how to communicate with the group from Saint Elizabeth’s. Using simple language and gestures, emphasizing words and having flash cards on hand to spell out difficult concepts are helpful tools. The guides were also taught how to engage people with language difficulties so they could answer questions and give opinions about the artwork. Asking yes or no questions or having visitors point to words on a paper allows them to engage in the conversation. For Brad Langmead, who has had aphasia since suffering a stroke, the chance to chime in is appreciated no matter how frustrating it is to find the right words, “My communication is awful. And the picture is good for me. It’s light and dark and it’s good.”

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