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Cal State East Bay’s Aphasia Tones Choir Receives National Award


  • November 2, 2015

The National Stroke Association is honoring Cal State East Bay’s Aphasia Tones Choir with its 2015 Raising Awareness in Stroke Excellence (RAISE) Award for “Most Creative” program. The RAISE award recognizes a group using creativity and originality to spread the word about stroke. The NSA selected five winners from more than 400 entries for awards in various categories.

“It's a matter of great pride for California State University, East Bay and for our Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders that the Aphasia Tones have been presented this national award of excellence,” Associate Professor Dr. Nidhi Mahendra said.

Cal State East Bay’s Aphasia Treatment Program, founded in 1996 by Dr. Jan Avent, reflects the the principles of the Life Participation Approach for Aphasia, championed worldwide by leading speech disorder specialists. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, this approach places the life concerns of persons with aphasia at the heart of clinical decision-making. In 2009, Ellen Bernstein-Ellis, director of the university’s ATP, developed the Aphasia Tones.

The choir is comprised of individuals learning to live fully with aphasia, which commonly occurs after a stroke. Aphasia can affect one’s ability to speak and understand others, and can lead to difficulties with reading and writing. Despite not being able to speak in sentences, however, some aphasia patients can sing familiar songs.

“Individuals with aphasia often have limited access to participating in community activities due to the language barriers created by the aphasia,” Bernstein-Ellis said. “I observed that our ATP members always responded well to music-themed activities. Based on a Life Participation Approach to Aphasia, the Aphasia Tones choir was formed to allow our members to become part of a community music experience as an active participant versus a passive observer.”

The choir, which is comprised of 25 members, rehearses weekly and performs three to six concerts a year for audiences ranging from 25 to more than 250 people. Each concert allows the members to be ambassadors in raising awareness about aphasia, which affects at least one million Americans according to the National Aphasia Association.

“I think the Tones are a force of nature that inspire everyone,” Mahendra said. “The creation of the choir and its student clinician co-directors symbolize the incredible work that is possible at a university training program where we get to straddle innovation, instruction, clinical service delivery, and scholarship all at once. Working with the Aphasia Tones as clinicians teaches our students every day that being a speech language pathologist is a tremendously rewarding career that changes peoples' lives.”

The Aphasia Tones have inspired at least six other aphasia programs and centers in the U.S. and abroad to start their own choirs.

CSUEB's Aphasia Tones choir was recently featured on the NBC Bay Area feature "Bay Area Proud" as well as on KTVU.

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