SCALE’s Aphasia Friendly Business Campaign;

Working with Businesses to Expand Services for People with Aphasia


In January 2011, the Snyder Center for Aphasia Life Enhancement (SCALE) launched an “Aphasia-Friendly Business Campaign” to raise awareness of aphasia in Baltimore, build relationships with local businesses and encourage businesses to provide barrier-free access to products and services for people with communication disabilities.

Upon hearing the idea, Zen West Cantina manager, Lynn Gurley and owner Po Chang, immediately jumped at the opportunity to make their restaurant an Aphasia Friendly Business (AFB), but they could not have realized just how smooth and simple the transition would be. Once Gurley fully understood the effect that aphasia –a language impairment usually caused by stroke- has on communication, she realized that a menu with graphics and pictures could easily assist people with aphasia in placing their dinner order.

Zen West Cantina was one of seven Baltimore-area businesses recognized for their commitment to providing accessible services to individuals with aphasia at a luncheon on Thursday June 9, at the Snyder Center for Aphasia Life Enhancement in Belvedere Square. This event kicked off June’s designation as National Aphasia Awareness Month. 

The luncheon honored the businesses that, along with Zen West, include: Penza-Bailey Architect Firm, M&T Bank, Swallow at the Hollow Restaurant, Van Dyke and Bacon Comfort Shoes, Northern Pharmacy and Northern Pharmacy Medical Equipment. SCALE also thanked other businesses that have supported the state’s only free-standing community center for people with aphasia since its birth in 2008.  All the businesses in attendance were invited to join the quest to better serve the over 23,000 people in the state of Maryland with aphasia.

“Why wouldn’t they do it?” Gurley said referring to other shops and stores invited to become Aphasia Friendly. “Why wouldn’t they help other people in the community for whom life is a little more difficult?”

“It doesn’t take much. SCALE made it so easy for us. There are things we had to do, but SCALE really kind of took over and helped us along the way. It wasn’t a big burden or a lot of time. It was something we wanted to do.”  

During the luncheon, stroke survivors and SCALE members Ginger Binder, Judy Crane and Howard Snyder, shared how aphasia can impact their independence in the community. SCALE program director Denise McCall and board chairman Andy Snyder further described how aphasia awareness and the use of simple tools throughout the business world can facilitate tasks, such as going to the bank or ordering lunch.

All it takes is creativity and a little bit of patience. And, after all, patience is free.

The seven businesses earned their AFB certification by sending representatives from their companies to SCALE to learn more about how aphasia affects language and communication, how it impacts everyone differently, and most importantly, how it does not impair an individual’s memory or cognitive skills.

SCALE members visited and surveyed all the businesses, evaluating how accessible their environment, products or services were for people with aphasia.

Then, they designed specific resources for each business, which would improve and support communication, such as picture-based menus for a restaurant or symbols that accompany written words at a bank. 

“SCALE members report that it is now easier to shop, dine and bank at these businesses because they are aware of aphasia and how to support customers in communicating their thoughts and needs,” McCall said. “They are now confident that they will be treated with the respect and patience that they deserve. Business owners report that this training has increased their sensitivity to communication disorders and that they look forward to being set-apart as a business that provides excellent customer service.”

“I think it’s very important because you are satisfying a person’s need,” said John Bacon of Van Dyke and Bacon Comfort Shoes, who helped make his shoe store an AFB by offering an illustrated chart with pictures of different types of shoes along with numbers for shoe sizes.

“I would think that any business would want this specialized training and have somebody from [SCALE] sit down with them for an hour or two.”

However, equally, if not more important, than the tools and pictures that will undoubtedly aid communication, is the fact that each AFB and its employees have a better understanding of what aphasia is and how to interact with people with aphasia.  Recognizing the competence and dignity of customers with aphasia and offering a patient, respectful approach is just plain good customer service.

“It’s just a patience thing. It’s taking time and being courteous and respectful,” Gurley said. “To me, it’s all about respect. It didn’t take much to make an environment that is useful and helpful to people who have aphasia.” 

Ellayne Ganzfried, the Executive Director of the National Aphasia Association, called the partnership between individuals with aphasia and businesses a “win-win”. While customers with aphasia will have more locations they are comfortable frequenting, the businesses will benefit from increased volume as word gets out that they cater to a specific set of needs.

Said Ganzfried, “There are over a million people with aphasia in the United States and to think that they now can go into any store or restaurant, and hotel, any business and be able to shop and be treated fairly and with respect—that’s really a monumental accomplishment.” With this goal in mind, during the month of June, the National Aphasia Association will be launching Baltimore’s Aphasia Friendly Business Campaign nationwide. 

-David Snyder