Can-Do-Ability: Answers and Solutions from my personal experiences of living with a disability

Communicating with only yes or no

14 Jan 2016A stroke is a debilitating event, and the effects of a stroke can stay with a person for the rest of their life.

In 2013 Graham Pawley had a severe stroke that left him with limited movement in his right arm and leg, and virtually unable to communicate. Graham is only able to speak four words, and, no, urr, and mmm.

The words and and no retain the same meaning, but urr and mmm have been given meaning to help him communicate.

Mmm means yes, and when he says urr he has something to say and needs you to guess what it is. This turns every conversation into a game of 20 questions. Which I'm sure requires a lot of patience and understanding on both sides.

The condition affecting Graham is called aphasia, and affects 33% of people who have a stroke. We've all experience times when we were unable to remember a word during conversation. Now imagine that happened every time you spoke.

Aphasia affects the ability to speak, read, and write, but doesn't affect intelligence.

It ranges in severity, symptoms include:
  • Trouble finding the right words, such as being unable to name common objects

  • The inability to speak, read, or write

  • The inability to comprehend language

It is described as being dropped into another country that has a completely different language and mode of communication. Graham's condition is uncommon because he understands everything said to him, but can barely express himself. He's also unable to read or write more than a few words.

Despite his limitations, Graham doesn't let them hold him back. He lives his life close to how it was before, still going out, shopping, and cooking for himself.

For Graham's story, read the full article The man who can only say yes or no


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