The Symbols of Bliss


Blissymbolics is an ideographic symbol system created by utopian visionary Charles K. Bliss (1897-1985). Shirley McNaughton, one of ISAAC’s founders, first began using Blissymbols as an AAC method in 1971 at Canada’s leading centre for children with disabilities, now known as Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.

Even those who have known about Blissymbolics for many years might not be aware of Bliss’s motivation to create a totally new communication system and have it recognized. A recent BBC broadcast uncovers this compelling story.

The entire 30-minute broadcast is well worth a listen. Some highlights are:

  • Starting just after the 8-minute mark, Janice Murray, a professor at Metropolitan Manchester University in the UK and former Chair of the ISAAC Council, explains the fundamentals of Blissymbolics.
  • At the 14-minute mark, Shirley McNaughton talks about her discovery of Blissymbols. She says of her first experience introducing Blissymbols to children with complex communication needs,“It was the most exciting thing in the world.” She shares a number of emotional experiences of parents whose children were able to communicate thoughts and feelings for the first time using Bliss.
  • Peter Zein, who uses an AAC device that integrates Blissymbols, gives his unique perspective just after the 21-minute mark.

A twist in the story is how Charles Bliss reacted to this application of his creation.  No spoilers – listen to the BBC Radio4 broadcast for yourself here.


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