Eli Dickenson wins ISAAC Australia Community Award

Eli Dickenson (Maylnads, WA) is a young adult in his twenties who lives his life to the full. He also happens to

have Angelman Syndrome and associated complex communication needs, and uses a

range of AAC tools and strategies to communicate. Eli is an active member of his

community, in fact, of the many varied communities to which he belongs.

Eli has strong social connections within his immediate community. He maintains many long-

term friendships and continues to build new relationships through his skill at selecting from a

wide range of multi-modal communication strategies the best to suit his particular community

environment or friend. For example, with his mates at the footy Eli tends to ‘yell out’ using

the Big Button Box app to select from a wide range of sound effects that which most

appropriately expresses his feelings towards the ref or players, whilst he uses sign to convey

more discreetly to his mates exactly what he thinks of the opposition’s supporters. In other

contexts with his same buddies he may point to symbols on an Aided Language Display – for

example at the swimming pool he has one attached to his kick board, yet with those same

buddies out in the pub he might use a combination of sign, vocalisations, his PODD and

PODD for compass on his iPad to share in the banter or more in depth conversation. Eli

loves interacting with people and his friends are very important in his life. Learning to use a

range of AA C supports has been extremely positive on Eli’s ability to form and maintain

friendships across his communities.


In the early years, Eli’s business began hiring out Panasonic Toughbooks to other people

with complex communication needs and behaviours which can be seen as challenging so

that they could learn to use technology and find a tool to help them communicate. There are

a number of people in Western Australia who now use technology as a result of Eli’s

business. Eli’s promotion of Toughbooks lead to them being funded devices in WA, and for a

while he had the nickname ‘Toughbook Eli’. He now uses an iPad and focusses more on

public speaking for his work.

Increasingly Eli has been sought after as a public speaker whose personality and use of

technology inspires others to see that everybody can communicate and make decisions

about their own lives. His first presentations in schools included Esperance Primary School

and Presbyterian Ladies College in Perth, and he has done a number of presentations in the

School of Education at Edith Cowan University and the School of Business at Curtin

University, showing students the value of experiencing alternative communication and giving

them confidence to engage with AA C users. Eli has since presented to many family groups

and workshops, including the Angelman Syndrome national conference and the Voice

Choice Control conference in NSW in 2013. Last year he was a paid presenter in the

Supported Decision Making project workshops run by WA’s Individualised Services, and was

paid to present to the national leaders workshop for the N D I A, in Geelong last year about

his life, showing the importance of individualised services, friends and a belief in everyone’s

ability to self-determine.


Eli actively uses his AAC in his on-going post-school education. In 2012 and 2013 Eli

attended classes and studied for the “Certificate I in Music Industry”. Although he hasn’t

yet passed all components of this course and has therefore not yet attained the certificate,

through his participation, Eli has raised significant awareness in this community (for students

and staff alike) about the importance of AAC in allowing genuine academic and social

inclusion to occur in both the classroom and around campus. His use of multimodal AAC

strategies enabled him to form at least one new long lasting friendship with a fellow student

in the class. This student happens to be a refugee from Uganda and Eli’s use of AA C

enabled him to bridge differences in language and culture.

Eli can often be seen out and about in his community, cycling or trainspotting, wearing and

using his AAC systems. As well as his voice, key word and idiosyncratic signs, and other

informal communication, Eli uses his personalised 40-cell PODD book, PODD 60 for

Compass on his I Pad and other AA C technology to communicate. Eli also maintains a

strong social media presence, both with his personal Facebook page and his Merger of

Minds business Facebook page, and is nearly always pictured in his posts with at least one

of his AAC tools. Eli frequently uses his own emergent writing skills to post on his Facebook

walls independently, and also tells his friends or support workers what to post using his

PODD book or PODD for Compass on his iPad. Within this forum, Eli shares stories of his

many ‘AAC success moments’ in the community .


Wherever Eli is, he has multiple means of communication with him. Wherever Eli is, you can

be sure he will be working out which of his AAC tools the people he is intending to interact

with will most understand or respond to. Eli is constantly surprised when other people he

meets with disability do not have AAC available to them and finds ways to communicate this

to those he is with. He is a passionate advocate for AAC and an exuberant role model for

those with complex communication needs – especially those who may also have been

considered by others to have an intellectual disability and/or demonstrate behaviours which

others may consider to be challenging. Eli is changing perceptions, forcing different

members of the varied communities with which he engages to think about AAC differently, to

recognise that everyone needs a voice and that with a voice a good life is possible.