Joel Nyland -Everyday Advocating for the Spelling Community

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPM

As you are all by now aware, SPELLTEMBER rushed in and left us with a lot to celebrate! Over the course of the month, I-ASC received nominations from around the world, with compelling testimonials about spellers and typers living across the globe that should be recognized. I-ASC’s Nonspeaking Leadership Council chose spellers to spotlight as ALL STARS. While we will be featuring the All Stars in blogs over the coming weeks, their Spellebrity Trading Cards can be found here.

I was honoured to interview one 19 year-old speller that shined in the category of “Ambassador”, Mr. Joel Nyland. Joel lives with his family in Seattle. Joel answered most of my questions during our live interview, assisted by Kari, his mother and primary CRP (and a current I-ASC Practitioner-in-Training!).

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPM

Joel arrived to our interview pouring out as much “Seattle cool” as I’d hoped, wearing a minimalist t-shirt with a solid message written across the front in plain font: I AM NOT WHAT YOU SEE.

~Giorgena Sarantopoulos

GS: Joel, I love your shirt. And I recognize you! I’ve seen you many times online.
Thank you for agreeing to do this interview. It must feel good to know that you were nominated by more than one person, to be recognized in the Spellerverse community because you are pretty awesome. Now that I can put a face to the name, I recall that I’ve witnessed wonderful things that you do. I also read about some of the other amazing things that you’ve done, like what you’ve done for your community, and how you advocate. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? How old are you and how many years have you been spelling?

JN: I’m 19. I have been spelling long enough to convince my family I am smart.

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPM

GS: I don’t think it took much convincing! They probably figured it out pretty early in your journey. One of the things I read, from one of the people that nominated you, is that they are inspired even after small chats they’ve had with you. It was one of the things that made me look very forward to meeting you.

You are from Seattle. That’s one of the places I wanted to visit. We were going to do a little west coast trip this year but of course stuff got cancelled. If I were to visit Seattle one day, what is first thing or place you recommend I go and see?

JN: My house

GS: Good! If I get the invitation I’ll come!
You were nominated and selected as a “spellebrity” in the category of Ambassador, which recognizes those spellers nominated as community builders, connectors, who spread the benefits of spelling and typing as AAC. What do you think makes YOU a good Ambassador?

JN: I am a good ambassador because I really love people. I also believe in everyone.

GS: It sounds like the people that know you and are in your community really love you too. What’s amazing is that for a long chunk of your life, people didn’t know you like they know you now. I’m so happy that you are able to share yourself with everyone. That was a beautiful answer.
Tell us what communication means to you.

JN: Communication is freedom from my body.

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPMI AM NOT WHAT YOU SEE:  Joel co-piloting a Cessna, 2019

GS: What types of speller events have you participated in online or in your local community? Do you have a favourite?

JN: I gave a presentation to 50 horse practitioners at Little Bit (a therapeutic horse riding center).

GS: That is impressive. It’s a lot of pressure to do in front of so many people. With all those eyes on you it must have been difficult, but you overcame all the challenges and all the different obstacles that would make that hard in order to get your message out. That story was mentioned in one of your nominations and probably a big part of the reason the nonspeaker panel selected you as an Ambassador. How did it feel to give those live presentations to such large groups?

JN: I also gave a presentation at my grandparents 60th anniversary party to 150 people.

GS: Wow. Were they in tears?

JN: They bought my t-shirt.

GS: The one you’re wearing? Of course, because you are not what they see, right? You are a deep guy. Tell us how it felt for you to be able to give those presentations in front of all those people at the anniversary party and at Little Bit?

JN: Empowering!

GS: I bet! I bet that you empower other people, as you inspire other people. In fact, the word “inspire” came up twice that I recall, from different people that nominated you, as you inspire them. And I’m sure you empower them too, to do better, and not give up. Because that’s what you do. If you could create an inspirational meme for new spellers, what would it say?


GS: Nice! This meme could have your picture on it, but asides from that, if you were to choose another picture for this internet meme, what would you imagine would go with those words?

JN: A horse.

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPM

GS: Horses look like they’re talking! I can imagine that. You could be an internet meme creator, Joel. Although I’m not sure if there’s a lot of money in that.

Now that you’ve gotten around the Spellerverse – I know that you participate in a lot of online events and maybe locally – If you could give an award to another speller, who would you pick – and if you want you can make up another category for them!

JN: I would give Caden (Rainey) a SPINNER award because he spins online (during Zoom classes). I would also give Caleb (Taub) an INSPIRATION award because he inspired me to learn to use the boards.

GS: OK, lastly, what’s the first thing you want to do after the world is safe from COVID? Like when this is all over?

JN: I will go to Motormorphosis.

GS: Ah, yes. Everyone will be so happy to be together again after being apart for so long. I know we’re in tough times but what is bringing joy to your life these days?

JN: I work with horses and I am getting a puppy. I will have one on the 21st.

GS: So you work with the horses? I wanted to ask about the connection to the ranch. Tell me about your experience working with horses. Do you work at Little Bit ranch where you gave the presentation to the practitioners?

JN: I work there and at a private barn.

GS: What do you like about working with and around horses?

JN: Horses know I am smart and I don’t need to prove anything.

GS: They are highly intelligent animals and they have good instinct. They know. You are very fortunate to have them in your life.

JN: Thank you this was of fun.

GS: Thank you too, it was fun for me too and I’m so glad I got to meet you more personally – and your mom as well!

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPM

Maybe I didn’t know Joel personally before he became an international Spellebrity, but I am very proud to call him a friend now! Our next meeting is planned for Motormorphosis 2021.


S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPM“I am proud to use a letterboard to communicate,” Joel spells to advocate that nonspeaking people need to be recognized as intelligent human beings. He is persistent. His words and actions remind others to be kind and useful.





The mission of I-ASC is to advance communication access for nonspeaking individuals globally through trainingeducationadvocacy and research I-ASC supports all forms of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) with a focus on methods of spelling and typing. I-ASC currently offers Practitioner training in Spelling to Communicate (S2C)with the hope that other methods of AAC using spelling or typing will join our association

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