Got ____? Aphasia: At a loss for words
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Got ____? Aphasia: At a loss for words

Aphasia advocacy

A bill has been introduced into the New Jersey legislature (S1931 and A2811) to establish a New Jersey Aphasia Study Commission in the Department of Health and Senior Services. Sponsors of the bill include state Sens. Loretta Weinberg and Diane Allen and Assembly members Valerie Huttle, Gordon Johnson, Connie Wagner and Joan Voss. The Senate version of the bill (S1931) states that the purpose of the commission is to: “establish a mechanism in order to ascertain the prevalence of aphasia in New Jersey, and the unmet needs of persons with aphasia and those of their families,” to “study model aphasia support programs,” and to “provide recommendations for additional support programs and resources…”

Political advocacy can be complicated and challenging under the best of circumstances. For individuals with aphasia, it can be especially daunting. But the Adler Aphasia Center has mobilized its members’ Advocacy Group, which provides members with opportunities to develop and improve their communication skills, to work on publicity and support of the bill. Over the past few weeks the group, led by Jessica Welsh and volunteer Robin Straus, prepared a form letter that supporters of the bill can send to their state representatives indicating their support.

The Advocacy Group includes Jeffrey Turitz, 53, who on Aug. 14, 2009 was in a motorcycle accident and suffered traumatic brain injury. Before his accident Turitz worked at the Defining Moment Foundation of Englewood, which provides counseling for alcohol and substance abuse. He is a licensed alcohol counselor and was a public speaker. “It’s been a tough year,” said Turitz, who grew up in Englewood. “I had to learn how to walk, talk, and dress myself. I am recovering. I’m a lucky man.”

Although he still struggles to express himself and faces challenges in his recovery from the accident, Turitz offered to speak at the center’s “Meet and Greet” to let members know about the legislation and how they could help it get passed. He rehearsed his plea saying, “I’m with the advocacy group. We are trying to help get people to sign a letter [in support of the bill].”

Vernon Wilson, 51, of Paterson, offered to back him up at the meeting by adding “I’m in favor of the bill. The bill helps a lot of people. You never know. There are a lot of people who you don’t think have [aphasia], but they do have it.”

Turitz thanked Wilson. “That’s where my friends come in with my aphasia. They know what I want to say,” he said. “If I have to speak in front of people I get nervous. You know what I want to say.”

Avi Golden, 36, of Queens, has a Facebook page that he uses to connect with family and friends. He suggested that they use e-mail and the Internet to distribute the advocacy letter.

Other center members working on advocacy for the bill include Bob Mayer, 51, of Rivervale, George Freeman, 61, of Hackensack, and Ken Albrecht, 52, a former town councilman in Hackensack.

The text of the Advocacy Group’s letter of support can be found at www.adleraphasiacenter.org. Click on “Support Aphasia Legislation in NJ.”

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