‘Bama Perks’ Beats Aphasia One Sip at a Time A university speech and hearing clinic opens a simulated coffee shop to help clients with aphasia practice their communication skills. Academic Edge
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Academic Edge  |   March 01, 2017
‘Bama Perks’ Beats Aphasia One Sip at a Time
Author Notes
  • Mary Ray-Allen, MEd, CCC-SLP, is clinic director and supervisor of the University of Alabama Speech and Hearing Center. mary.ray-allen@ua.edu
    Mary Ray-Allen, MEd, CCC-SLP, is clinic director and supervisor of the University of Alabama Speech and Hearing Center. mary.ray-allen@ua.edu×
Article Information
Hearing & Speech Perception / Professional Issues & Training / Language Disorders / Aphasia / Academic Edge
Academic Edge   |   March 01, 2017
‘Bama Perks’ Beats Aphasia One Sip at a Time
The ASHA Leader, March 2017, Vol. 22, 36-37. doi:10.1044/leader.AE.22032017.36
The ASHA Leader, March 2017, Vol. 22, 36-37. doi:10.1044/leader.AE.22032017.36
The smell of freshly brewed coffee fills the air as people mill about, greeting one another with warm smiles and hugs. Some approach the coffee bar and order a “Reginald Original,” a specialty drink named after one of the shop’s patrons, while others gather around small bistro tables and order French vanilla cappuccinos and hot cocoa.
“Bama Perks” is a typical coffee shop in many ways, but it’s unique in its location and clientele. It’s housed in the University of Alabama Speech and Hearing Center, its patrons are clinic clients with aphasia, and its volunteer baristas are undergraduate communicative disorders students. Graduate-student clinicians chat and enjoy coffee with clients and their families.
An idea percolates
Bama Perks—Beating Aphasia One Sip at a Time” uses a formerly vacant space in our Speech and Hearing Center to meet a critical need for many of our clients with aphasia.
The Speech and Hearing Center is housed in a former medical center. One of the relics of the building’s past life was an old nurses’ station. As a clinical supervisor, I passed by that unused space daily, wondering what we could do with it.
The answer came during a conversation with one of our well-loved adult clients with moderate, mixed-expressive/receptive aphasia. Along with his inability to communicate, he also lost a job he loved and his sense of community. Through effortful conversation, he said he had no one to talk with, that sometimes he would go to the mall and sit on a bench, just waiting for an opportunity to say hello to a passerby. He was lonely and depressed.
I had my “aha” moment: The old nurse’s station already had a bar-like shape that could easily be transformed into a coffee bar. I envisioned an inviting chalkboard sign, café tables, and clients socializing and communicating with one another.
Our adult speech therapy clinic already offered a variety of language groups for clients: book clubs, travel groups, technology labs and more. But something was missing—although these groups encourage social interaction, they are highly structured, with limited opportunity for clients to casually connect with one another. I wanted clients to see that they are not alone in their experiences. The journey to recovery is much easier when you have a team cheering you on.
Starting to brew
Department administrators immediately supported the coffee shop idea when I proposed it. We developed a plan, agreeing that Bama Perks patrons would not pay for their coffee, so we’d need funding support. We applied for a CARSCA (College Academy of Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity) grant through Alabama’s College of Arts and Sciences, which offers financial support to faculty involved in innovative research or creative and professional projects.
We believed the coffee shop would benefit many groups:
  • Clients practice skills they learn in treatment in a real-life setting.

  • Students learn how to work with and communicate with people with aphasia.

  • Researchers collect data on clients’ progress, and use the data to make changes in the program and design protocols for similar programs.

I had to think of myself as a pioneer small business owner: What do we need to open a coffee shop? How would clients using a wheelchair access the coffee bar? What were the safest coffee cups for clients with physical limitations? Who would operate the coffee shop?

In training, we emphasize three concepts: keep it simple, keep it positive and always thank the person for having a conversation.

Coffee’s ready
We opened in February of 2016, with my graduate assistant serving as the assistant manager overseeing daily operations. Since then, we have bustled with clients, their families and students. We have realized success on many fronts.
Clients are regaining confidence to do things they never thought possible, such as going to restaurants and ordering for themselves, returning to church, and reconnecting with friends and family. They report feeling less anxious, lonely and depressed. Through this real-life social experience in a safe environment, they feel confident in getting back to “doing life.”
And what student doesn’t want to hang out in a coffee shop? Undergraduate student volunteers operate the coffee shop three days each week and graduate-student clinicians serve as communication partners, facilitating client communication. Everyone receives training on communication partner techniques (such as gesturing, drawing and writing) and on the basics of good communication with people with aphasia (speaking slowly, using simple language and knowing what to say when you don’t understand what a client is communicating).
In training, we emphasize three concepts: keep it simple, keep it positive and always thank the person for having a conversation.
A full cup
We completed a preliminary research study during the coffee shop’s first few months, looking at the feasibility of incorporating a simulated real-life setting into a university clinic and whether outcome measures support implementing this type of treatment. We used several assessments, a caregiver questionnaire, and logs before, during and after clients’ participation.
In initial findings, most participants demonstrated higher levels of communication at 12 weeks than at baseline. We concluded that Bama Perks proved to be a positive environment for clients with aphasia, that it encouraged clients to engage with others in a conversational setting, that clients felt comfortable and confident among people with similar experiences, and that the simulated coffee shop can effectively supplement treatment to improve language abilities, social interactions and quality of life.
Now I am reminded daily that coffee—valued for its caffeine, unique flavor and warmth—has yet another benefit. After Bama Perks had been open for a while, some students surprised me in the coffee shop with a T-shirt that says, “I turn coffee into speech therapy!”
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March 2017
Volume 22, Issue 3