The Stroke Association and a North East hospital trust have launched a pioneering project that could help hundreds of thousands of people in the UK with speech problems.
County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust and the Stroke Association are working with high street shops to help staff understand aphasia.
The Aphasia Aware project, the first of its kind in the UK, is funded by Durham County Council and aims to enable businesses across Durham to be more accessible.
Aphasia, caused by stroke or a brain injury, affects a person’s ability to process and use language and affects 250,000 people in the UK.
People with aphasia make mistakes and often find it difficult to understand words and sentences that they hear or read.
Some people with aphasia may also experience slurred speech, sometimes mistaken for drunkenness.
A dozen shops and businesses are taking part in the Aphasia Aware trial in Durham, which involves communication exercises and awareness training based on the real life shopping experiences of people with aphasia.
Louise Hedley, deputy head of operations at the Stroke Association in the North East, said: “Over a third of all stroke survivors develop an impairment of language, affecting their speech and the ability to read or write.
“Given the massive impact on a stroke survivor’s life, the new flash card, window decals and logos at shopping tills will help assure people that local businesses understand the issues, barriers and frustrations that can come from having a communication difficulty.”
Kathryn Cann from County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust said: “The tools and training help businesses to provide ‘communication ramps’ that make shops much more accessible to people with aphasia who might otherwise feel too anxious to use them.”
The scheme could also help people with speech impairments including dyspraxia, dysarthria and help those facing difficulties due to Huntington’s disease, Motor neurone disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Businesses taking part in Durham include Barclays, BHS, Next, St Nicholas Church café and fair trade shop, Boots, Clarkes Shoes, Durham County Council Libraries, Shop Mobility, and Costa Coffee.