Given the challenges that Ant has set himself over the years since his stroke, it was only right to take on this small challenge for him.
As a former journalist, my previous career had many parallels with Ant’s work at the Jersey Evening Post, indeed our paths crossed on many occasions. Being able to communicate is fundamental to all journalism and in politics also.
With that in mind, when my disability for the day was drawn out of a hat – living with the effects of a stroke – it was perhaps the most difficult of all challenges for me, on a personal level. Along with paralysis of my right arm, I was challenged to experience living with aphasia. Aphasia is a communication disorder, a common side-effect of having a stroke, which can affect people in many different ways. For my challenge, I was not allowed to speak at all.
I started the challenge at home with no gentle introduction – I have two boys under 12, who immediately put my non-verbal communication skills to the test over breakfast!
Initially I felt quite relaxed about coping with my disability, I had written a message on a card so that I could explain to people why I couldn’t speak to them. But as I started to meet people and felt their expectations, I noticed that my anxiety increased quickly. I was concerned by the way some people reacted to me, and how I found it very hard to make myself understood. The prompt cards, explaining my challenge just weren’t enough. I quickly found some post it notes and a marker pen that was easy to use with my left hand. Simple things, such as ordering my morning coffee, were a daunting and lengthy experience.
One of the highlights of the day was with meeting with Ant to discuss the challenge. The first thing he did was reprimand me for using my iPhone to help me communicate – that was not allowed under challenge rules! With time and patience at both ends, we had an engaging conversation about the challenges of communication and the benefits of assistive technology – such as the applications available on an iPad.
My day was filled with typical meetings, including briefings on various work streams such as the BaSS (Building a Safer Society) Strategy. I also attended a visit to the new British Red Cross Jersey headquarters – being interviewed by a JEP journalist there was a real challenge for us both!
Perhaps the most fascinating part of the challenge was the range of people’s reactions to me over the course of the day. This varied greatly. Some people spoke to me differently, it was as if they thought my mental capacity had been diminished by the inability to speak. Others kindly tried to fill in the conversation, using closed questions that were simpler to draw an opinion from me and some avoided conversation with me altogether.
It was frustrating to make myself understood, but with a lot of patience and some scrawled writing with my left hand, there was usually a way to do so.
As the challenge came to end, I could only feel gratitude for the opportunity to return to full communication, in the understanding that people who live with the effects of a stroke do not have that luxury.