Paul Marshall: A man to be remembered

Posted on November 11, 2016


Paul Marshall, the first augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) user to present a lecture in South Africa, passed away on 25 October 2016.

Paul visited South Africa in the company of fellow Canadian, Prof Suzanne Clancy, from 23–27 May 1995. Following a visit to Cape Town, he presented two lectures in Pretoria. The first of these lectures, titled 'From Blissymbols to literacy', gave us an inside look at his personal experiences. The second, presented at the Tshegofatsong Special School in Mamelodi, dealt with 'The rights of people with disabilities: Facing the challenges'. If one considers the fact that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities only came into effect in 2006, it is quite clear that Paul was ahead of his time!

Before learning Blissymbolics (Bliss) at the age of 12 years, Paul had been unable to communicate. He explained how the power of communication allowed him a new beginning in life, free from isolation, depression and frustration, and emphasised how Bliss provided him with a solid platform for developing literacy, and how important strong language and literacy skills are for all persons who use AAC to allow them to realise their full potential.

Paul was a recognised as an international advocate and spokesperson for the rights of people with little or no functional speech and travelled extensively throughout Canada, to the US and even South Africa and Peru to encourage the use of AAC. In 1994 he was honoured with the Words + ISAAC Outstanding Consumer Lecture award. He had a serving heart and was passionate about the role that persons who use AAC should play in building the field by sharing their unique insider perspectives. His attitude was: 'Whether you use high tech or low tech, you can help. It can mean writing articles, sending emails and just being available on the electronic highways to light the spark that leads to change. Show that any disability is only skin-deep.' Despite reduced mobility and increasing pain over the past few years, he continued to lead by example and continued his promotion of the use of AAC and, in particular, Bliss.

Paul left behind unforgettable memories linked to AAC and Bliss when he visited South Africa, and our friendship was strengthened during the various conferences of the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC) that he attended. What fun we had in Brazil in 2004! I clearly remember how Paul did not want to use his device, but preferred to use his low-tech board to communicate with me as he felt that it was more private.  Any conversation with Paul always left you feeling encouraged and energised.

He was a man of immense faith with a positive spirit, and our lives are richer for having known him.

During this time our thoughts are with his mother, Rosemary, and his other family members and friends, but while we are mourning the loss of Paul Marshall, we know that others are joyfully celebrating his arrival in Heaven.



- Author Prof Juan Bornman

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