Floridians will be happy to know they have an advocate with aphasia in their corner. Stroke survivor and person with aphasia Coleman Watson knows from experience what Americans face when it comes to the weight of medical bills. He is running for U.S. Senate with universal healthcare a key component of his platform.
If Watson’s name sounds familiar, you may remember him as the lawyer creating a documentary film about his experience with aphasia. That film is still on track to be completed, and it will now cover seven stories from people with different types of aphasia, including Watson’s journey from having only one word (“Yes”) to a run for a Senate seat.
We were able to speak with Coleman Watson about his life on the campaign trail.
Aphasia Led Him To Run for Office
Navigating social security moved Watson to action. “I applied for disability relief due to my stroke/aphasia, and I waited… waited… waited while my life was crumbling every day,” he says. It’s a familiar situation for many stroke survivors, especially the final result of Watson’s experience: his claim was denied in full.
His experience as a federal attorney positioned him to run for a position helping with federal issues. “I decided on the Senate instead of House because I wanted to represent the entire state of Florida and influence policy for all Americans.”
Aphasia Helps Him To Be a Better Candidate
Watson’s struggle with aphasia and subsequent help from speech therapy made him promise one thing: “I promised myself that when I could talk, read, and write again, then I would pay it forward. That day has come. I’m not the type of person who abandons anyone, even before my stroke. So for me, my recovery has been outward to help others, not inward just for me.”
Life experience has brought understanding, and that understanding is, in turn, helping others to live better lives. He had to file for bankruptcy due to his stroke and medical bills. “I had to apply for disability benefits – but I was denied even though I paid into the system for 27 years now,” he says. “I think this vast experience makes me the best candidate because I can evaluate policy from [varied] perspectives.”
His motivation ties directly back to his stroke.
My passion for advocacy has grown because of my stroke, not despite it. Everything changed. My family. My marriage. My kids. My business. My friends. All in an instant. But for me, my stroke was grace. It showed me about what matters in life – and what matters is change. I’m not a politician. A politician is a person who just needs a job. I’m a human – a human with passion. I know the ongoing struggles of a healthcare crisis, disability, and bankruptcy. All of these things have made me a more understanding candidate.
Aphasia Has Made Running a Little Harder
Running for office is always difficult, but running for office when you have a communication disorder such as aphasia means words aren’t easily at your disposal to convey your ideas.
Watson admits that it’s frustrating when words get stuck or when he hits vocabulary limitations. “Even though I understand the words now, it is very hard to produce the sounds, cadence, and syntax that I need sometimes. Aphasia has been hard for me because certain words make me get stuck. So, I have to avoid certain consonant clusters in sequence.”
It’s a situation familiar to others with aphasia. Needing to talk around a missing word, avoiding sounds that trip you up, or being unable to bring a word forth are all moments people with aphasia experience daily.
Aphasia Leads To Funny Moments on the Campaign Trail
Sometimes getting stuck also leads to people coming together. He explains:
Talking is still hard for me because I have apraxia in addition to aphasia. My main issue now is spelling, so I use a whiteboard to help because seeing the letters helps me to talk. I have gotten enormous support from voters because of my whiteboard. Basically, it has been similar to a game show when I have difficulty with certain words. Imagine being on Family Feud with others helping with answers. Voters want to be included in the conversation, so they have been helping me with the right word and then I continue my speeches. It has been incredible and, at times, very funny.
These lighter moments provide connection.
Coleman Watson is making sure people with aphasia are part of the conversation. It is amazing to see how far he has come since his stroke, regaining speech one word at a time.