The Power of AAC

Matthew Goodsell is a writer, blogger
and filmmaker. His most recent film is
Matt #183, 1000 Londoners


‘… it wasn’t until I got to university that my Lightwriter really came into it’s own.’


I remember the day I got my first Lightwriter. I was 8 or 9 years old, living with my parents and brothers up in Cheshire. It was one of their early machines with no speech output, and I had just been given it as a trial. Out with my mum one Saturday morning in Macclesfield, I suddenly had the ability to communicate with everyone, so I took great pleasure in talking to every shop owner I could find. Before then, I had only been able to chat with people who knew me well enough. Suddenly, I could talk to who ever I wanted and took inordinate pleasure in doing so. That is the power of AAC

When I was still at school people in my circle were used to communicating with students like me, so it wasn’t until I left Hebden that my VOCA truly came into it’s own. When I began my A Levels at Macclesfield College, using my Lightwriter was essential on a daily basis. I had to communicate with my personal and learning support assistants to tell them what I needed. When I went on to South Cheshire College – a much larger, busier place – the ability to express myself became even more vital.

However, it wasn’t until I got to university that my Lightwriter really came into it’s own. Further education colleges might not be quite as attuned to communication aid users as special schools, but they do have some experience. When I got to university – a small, fairly rural campus in the north of England – I was almost viewed as some kind of alien. The only way I could get my needs and views across were through my Lightwriter, and most of the people  – students and staff – had never come into contact with a communication aid user before.

I, however, came into my own. I suddenly found that I finally had a social life. The first night I mustered the courage to take myself to the campus bar, I found it being set up for a disco. I sat myself at a table in the corner and asked someone to help me buy a beer. The rest of the evening I spent sitting chatting to people, and I soon found that I could socialise pretty well. I made many friends that first night in my first year, and have never really looked back.

I used a Lightwriter SL35 throughout my life at university, first doing a Bachelor’s Degree in Film and Writing, then a Master’s by research in Film. It proved crucial for both my academic work – communicating with tutors and other staff etc – and my social life. For the first time, I found I could just be myself. It was during my later years at university that I attracted the online attention of the woman who would later become my fiancée. We live together in London now. Lyn, like me, has cerebral palsy and back then she too used a Lightwriter – an SL50. When Lyn adopted the iPad as her communication aid, however, I of course inherited her SL50. I found it a much better machine, with more realistic voices and it’s ability to send text messages.

Two or three years later, however, when Lyn upgraded her iPad, I began to use her old one. I was somewhat wary at first – it was the first time I had used a non-specialist piece of equipment as my communication aid. Yet, I soon found the many advantages of the Apple product. For one, as well as using it to communicate, I liked how the iPad also enabled me to browse the web and check my email while on the move. While some argue that VOCA users should steer clear of off-the-shelf products, for fear that more specialist equipment might cease to be made. I certainly think there is room for both and that an individual should go with what is best suited to them personally.


CENMAC commissioned Matthew Goodsell to write a personal reflection about growing up using assistive technology.

We are celebrating #CENMACat50 this year and will be sharing more personal blog posts about assistive technology and its impact. Don’t forget Communication Works 2018 will take place on Thursday 24 May from 10am-4pm. This is a FREE event, but please register for this event: Communication Works 2018.

Matthew in his chair outside
Matthew Goodsell