Monthly Special Connections

Special Connections

January, 2021

with Samantha & Carolyn

We are looking forward to connecting with you about all the special things in our lives. In January there are several special birthdays. COVID has made January Birthday celebrations different this year. Here is what the Birthday folks shared with us.

Shirley’s Special Day

Shirley celebrated her 90th birthday on January 3rd. Last year, she teased her friends that she wanted a big party. She got her wish – just differently!  Her sons and some close friends arranged a surprise Zoom party with well over 70 people from around the world. There were friends and colleagues from the 50 years that she had met as the first teacher of Bliss. Everyone had wonderful comments and thanks for Shirley’s leadership, guidance and friendship. It was so interesting to hear about Shirley’s work from so many of the people whose lives she touched.

Kari Wrote:

 January happens to be full of birthdays in my family. Mine is on January the sixth, so I just had it a week and five days ago. I turned 56.

I must say that I was a lucky one because a lot of the residents at my home had to celebrate their birthday in their room due to the lockdowns we had during COVID 19. We just got out of our third lockdown just before my birthday. This is the biggest change from my birthdays in the past. Having it during COVID 19. Usually, I go to a restaurant to celebrate my birthday.

This year I got flowers from my brother and his family, cards, and even presents that the supervisor had ordered from Amazon and a friend gave me an iTunes card. I felt like having dinner with shrimp, so the supervisor had ordered a shrimp chive dinner, which lasted me three more suppers. It tasted delicious. Instead of a birthday cake, I had a Tim Horton’s carrot muffin.

        I have to say that my most memorable birthday was when I turned 23. I had Ann Running and her parents at my parents’ house. It was so much fun for the best friends and fans of Anne Murray!

Carolyn would like to reminisce sometime with Kari about both Ann and Anne. 

Irene Wrote:

My birthday is on January 25. Last year my aunts, uncles, cousins, sister in law, my three brothers and my favourite niece came for my birthday. My grandmother who was 97 year old also came. I got lots of gifts but one gift I remember was a bottle of ice wine from Niagara. I think this year will be different. My grandmother won’t be able to come because of Covid. Maybe some people will come for a porch visit. This year I will have a birthday cake with mom and dad, my brothers and the cat Belle.

Samantha wonders if you could take pictures to share with your grandmother.

Joe’s Birthday was January 28th.

.Joe Wrote:

Miss those days of my birthday parties @ lots places and friends planned them.

Carolyn remembers some of those parties at The Granite Brewery in Toronto and misses those noisy, crowded, fun nights now that Joe lives in Orillia!

Valentine’s Day will be different this year. We would love to hear how you are going to celebrate it. Please send us your ideas to

See you next month!

Blog Editor’s Note:

SpecialConnections will be a regular monthly feature in 2021.

Its authors are Carolyn Henry and Samantha Millar, assisted by Carolyn’s sister, Glynis, and Samantha’s mother, Julie.

There will be entries that are written collaboratively or with light editing applied.

When content is included that has been written by a contributor solely, this will be acknowledged, by printing his/her name. 

Thanks for a great party!!!

Blissful Thoughts’ 

seems the best way

 for me to thank 

all those 

who made my 90th birthday

such a joyous and memorable event! 

 Thanks to the three Toronto conspirators – Penny, Lynnette and Nora – who planned and achieved the day!

 Thanks to my family for abetting the conspirators – Kevin, Litsa, David, Janice, Christopher, Kathryn and Matthew!

 Thanks to Bob and my mother, who, through different periods of my life, believed in me and supported me in what I did!

And looking back and remembering others who are no longer with us, I  have to say a quiet thank-you to Jinny and Dick Storr, Jane Green, Els Koerselman, Maurice Izzard, Anna Greta Malstrom-Groth, Sue Odell, Paul Marshall, Ann and Miriam Running, Val Cruse, Andrew and Mark  Murphy, Clarence Meyers, Anne  Warrick, and so many many more!  And I must say ‘thanks’ to Charles K. Bliss who gave us his seminal language, and ensured we would have a memorable beginning to our experiences using his language with our special communicators.

 Thanks to all those who spread the word about the party – Katherine, Audrey, Judy, Claudia, Rebecca and Margareta are the ones I learned about!

Thanks to all those who spoke such kind words at the zoom party!

 Thanks to all those who attended – too many to see all at one time, needing  four zoom screens!

Thanks to those who sent chat messages during the party, or emailed and phoned the following week!

Thanks to everyone who had me in their thoughts on Jan.3 !!

Thanks to everyone for including me in your life !!!

I was privileged

 to travel the Bliss and AAC road

amongst the pioneers.

 I continue to be privileged

 to share the journeys 

of those who have travelled 

and are travelling their unique paths,

through five decades!


If you would like to view the recording of my Birthday Party, email me at

Jorge’s Book

On December 6, 2020, Jorge Almeida will be 50 years of age!  I am very happy to celebrate his birthday by giving you the link to his life story, published by the Inclusive Design Institute,  OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design) University!

I met Jorge many years ago when I used to visit Computer Wise in Ottawa and learned about all the great work being accomplished there by several Bliss alumni and their colleagues. You will be able to read about Jorge’s experiences at Computer Wise in the “Jobs’ section of his book. I hope you enjoy Jorge’s story. He shares his many interesting ideas, experiences, and dreams. He tells about his girlfriend Chantal Bedard whom many of us knew in our Ontario Bliss community. You can learn about how Jorge uses his left foot to control five switches that work his electric wheelchair and his Liberator computer. If you wish to send your greetings to Jorge or ask a question, leave a comment and Jorge will see it.

Here is the link to Jorge’s book:

Happy reading!

“It’s Complicated”

Julie Millar describes Samantha’s covid adaptations

“It’s complicated” is not something that is unusual for AAC users to hear but in this new age of social distancing and computer video calls it takes on a new meaning. Samantha uses the program Tobi Communicator on a Toughbook Windows computer as her face to face communication device. As with most AAC users, it takes time for Samantha to decide what she wants to say and then to compose her message on the Toughbook.  Pre-COVID days, Samantha relied on her communication partner to give her time and patience to say what she wanted. Her partner could watch as she composed her message and begin to understand the time consuming process it takes to say what comes easily to the verbal population. But these pandemic times have made communication difficult for many of us; with the additional technology involved for Samantha to talk to people, it really has become more complicated.

Samantha began by adding an external camera to her Toughbook to use Google Meet for her video calls. This worked but, as she was composing her message, the computer screen was taken up with Communicator (the speech output program) so she could not see the other person as she was writing her message. This left the communication partner looking at her but not sure what she was doing, so they often jumped in, not giving Samantha time to complete her message. We had to be creative to come up with solutions to facilitate good communication practices. Samantha now uses two devices, an iPad and her computer to communicate on a video call. The iPad is connected to the call (with the microphone blocked to prevent feedback) to act as a second screen so Samantha can see the person she is talking to even whilst writing. Samantha’s screen is shared with the communication partner so they can see what she is doing as she is writing. 

As everyone is trying to find ways during these troubling times to stay connected, I am glad we were able to help Samantha work through some of the issues so she too can connect with family and friends.

Samantha having a Google Meet meeting with her sister Jayme. 

Blissymbols in Title

it + is [present tense of verb “to be”] + complicated [combine indicator + difficult + many + part(s) + adjective indicator + combine indicator]

The symbol for “complicated” in the title is enclosed with combine indicators to denote that this Bliss-word does not  appear in the BCI Authorized Vocabulary (AV)technology. It has been created through the collaboration of Shirley McNaughton, Margareta Jennische and Julie Millar and will be submitted to the Blissymbolics Approval Committee for consideration for inclusion in the BCI AV. 

Favourite Vacation Part 3

Carolyn’s Trip to Paralympics in London

One of my favourite vacations was going to Paralympics in London in 2012. London is my favourite city to visit.  I was amazed at the blind people in the long jump. Everyone has to be quiet when a helper would stand at the jump line and clap so the jumper would know where to jump.  Also we watched a marathon from in front of Buckingham palace. 

Blissymbolics Archive Treasure #1

The beginning stage of developing the Blissymbolics Archival Collection has been underway since the fall of 2019. This project has been made possible through a generous donation to Blissymbolics Communication Institute – Canada (BCIC) by Margaret (Peg) Rooks, following the death of her husband, Rob Rooks, April 23, 2019. Both Peg and Rob have been supporters of our Bliss program through many years! Upon completion, the Blissymbolics Archive Collection will be housed in the University of Toronto Archives Library. Below you see the U of T storage facility where Russell Galvin, BCI Board Member arranged a visit for Margareta Jennische, BCI president, and me last November.

At this time (August, 2020), the materials stored in my storage unit are being sorted, organized and placed in bankers boxes for delivery to the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). There they will be prepared for storage in the University of Toronto Archives Library. This work is being done with the help of Rebecca Chan, who helps BCIC projects in a myriad of ways – as technical coordinator for Bliss i-Band, as assistant in Bliss Study Group and Board of Directors meetings, as helper to Bliss users, as our resident videographer.

Rebecca showing the first completed 12 boxes in the storage unit.

Currently, Rebecca and I are working at my home, sorting through those famous shopping bags and cartons, and entering the documents into a data base prior to putting them into more OISE boxes.

As we worked away yesterday, and continued discovering materials that reminded me of memorable happenings in our Bliss history, we thought of sharing our enjoyment in Blissful Thoughts. So from time to time, we will be making short videos and I will be making an entry about a “finding”!

Here is the first Archive Treasure for Blissful Thoughts!

Autocom- made- Blisscom, in the 70’s – 80’s

Most fortuitously, Penny Parnes, who was Director of the Augmentative Communication Service (ACS), 1979-1990, at what is now called the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, , came across a picture of the autocom during her COVID-19 ‘sorting pictures’ time in March, 2020. In the above picture, Penny is demonstrating the device for her daughter Sarah and a friend. You can see the control mechanism in Penny’s hand. It is shaped like a flat iron. It was a perfect shape for users like Sue Odell, to maintain a firm grip. To date, this is the only picture we have found of the device.

In the short video that follows, I describe how the autocom worked and share a little of its history. We called the version of the autocom produced with Blissymbols by the TRACE Centre, the Blisscom.

Below you see Sue Odell working with Shirley, using her manual communication board. There will be another Blissful Thought telling about another device Sue helped design in the nineties. Watch for the entry about BMW!

Shirley working with Sue Odell .
More than likely Sue was giving some directions for a project! Sue was very good at telling us what she thought we should be doing!

Blissymbols can be found in the most surprising places!

It happened last Sunday morning, following the Sunday morning zoom service at Don Heights Unitarian Congregation. We were having our small “break-out” group discussion with just 6 participants, when I caught sight of the Blissymbol for “feeling, as an adjective”!

(The “indicator” appearing over the heart symbol denotes the grammatical category.)

“Feeling” appeared in the backdrop behind Peter Lister.

I was wondering why the symbol appeared to be layered on a “grid”, but not properly positioned…. 

I just had to ask Peter where the symbol came from! His response….

“What symbol?” 

“I’m sitting in front of a picture of a table with a checkered table cloth!”

With a little detective work, we discovered that the “feeling” symbol was a great example of ‘meaning being in the eyes of the beholder’.

Only, I, would perceive “feeling” in the back of a wrought iron chair!

It could be said that I’m “seeing things” that aren’t there. I prefer to believe that I bring the language of Blissymbolics to many aspects of my life – with enjoyment!

Leads me to a great book, for anyone wishing to delve more into perception. It’s one of my favourites!

Graziano, Michael S.A. (2010). God Soul Mind Brain. 

Massachusetts: Leapfrog Press.

I invite anyone who sees a Blissymbol in an unexpected place to share your finding with readers of Blissful Thoughts! You can do this by sending an email message to

Masked Emotions!

It is always wonderful to learn about the experiences of those in our Bliss community! Rebecca was happy to share her “masking” experience with her grand-daughter, Iris Hannah. My thanks goes to Iris Hannah’s parents, Caitlin and Jordan, for permitting us to enjoy seeing Iris Hannah as she newly discovered more of what her grandma looks like! 

From Rebecca

A thoughtful friend gave me this see-through mask, concerned that the baby was only ever seeing half my face.

August 5th picture shows the very first time 5-month old Iris Hannah saw the lower part of my face. Not counting the first (pre-Covid) 3 weeks of her life, when she was still in an infant “fog”, she had only ever seen me with an obscuring mask on, hiding my mouth.

She first enthusiastically grabbed at my mask, perhaps drawn by the pretty gingham. After I pried her fingers off, we looked at each other…that’s when she reared back and started looking a little uncertain. In the second picture, you can see her arm is a blur as she “wind-mills” them in an attempt to get to her mother (and away from me). 


The meaning of the elements in the Title symbols.

Masked = combine symbol + mask (face + make-believe) + nose + mouth + adjective indicator + combine symbol. [Rebecca and I had to create a new “combine” symbol for mask to accommodate to Covid-19 masks.]

Emotions = emotion (heart shape) + plural indicator

The Blissymbol Alphabet Song

The Blissymbol Alphabet Song was written by me in the early eighties to help Bliss instructors and students look up symbols by their Bliss alphabet components and determine their meaning.

The first authorized vocabulary of 1400 Blissymbols was published in “Blissymbols for Use” (Hehner, 1980). We now have over 6,000 Bliss-words in our BCI Authorized Vocabulary.

In this 1980 publication, learners could look up symbols in three ways: (1) their English gloss, (2) the semantic category to which the symbol belonged (3) their Bliss alphabet “spelling”.

Having an alphabet song, helped make the ordering of the symbols memorable. Today, this same ordering is used in drawing symbols by those using

I invite anyone who would like to sing the alphabet song and totally master “isosceles triangle” to contact me for a zoom session recording! I would be happy to add an additional performance to this entry!

This song was sung at Bliss Workshops around the world by enthusiastic groups of Bliss instructors. I have a memory of one rendition on the steps of a large railway station. I don’t remember the city! Our last effort was in St. Catherines, Ontario, at Brock University in 2016. Not many of us remained who remembered the 80’s!