I-ASC has declared September as SPELLTEMBER. A month to recognize and spellebrate the hardest working people we know, nonspeaking people who spell and type! We put out a call for nominations and were so delighted to receive nominations for spellers across the globe. Some spellers nominated themselves, others were nominated by friends, family and community members. The nominations were powerful testimonials about spellers and typers who are making an impact on their community. A spellebration of all of the nominees and their Spellebrity Trading Cards can be found here.
We analyzed the nominations and found four recurring themes amongst the nominations and we came up with four categories. Dauntless – those spellers nominated for perseverance, resilience, big gains in motor control/skills, and tenacity. Ambassadors – spellers nominated as community builders, connectors, who spread the benefits of spelling and typing as AAC. Influencers – spellers nominated for their leadership, advocacy, self-advocacy, and changemaking. Humanitarians – spellers nominated for their kindness, friendship, altruism, and generosity of spirit. I-ASC’s Nonspeaking Leadership Council read the nominations, with names redacted to eliminate bias, and chose 5 spellers from each category to spotlight as ALL STARS. We will be featuring the All Stars in blogs over the coming weeks so you can get to know these remarkable individuals.
One Speller was nominated multiple times and demonstrates qualities in each of the nomination categories. That speller is Danny Whitty and he is the I-ASC Four Star Spellebrity. It was my pleasure to interview Danny. Some of the questions were answered in a live one hour interview and a few others were submitted later by Danny. Danny spelled with his sister and CRP, Tara. I am certain you will enjoy meeting this formidable thinker, poet, advocate, friend and tenacious human, Danny Whitty.
EV: How did you get started as a speller?
DW: It is a long tale. What an incredible discovery for me! It was my mother’s idea to see you in Portland. I was skeptical it would be productive. You were so open and kind to me in a way I had never felt. There was a sense that you know I had more in me than my outward lack of words. Since I was small, I prayed for someone like you to help me. So when we got started, I was in heaven! It opened my universe to boundless opportunities. Awesome to look back now to see my progress.
I remember working with you in Portland well. You developed skills on the letterboards so quickly. It felt like years of communication were ready to burst! It is a privilege to be part of your communication story.
What does communication mean to you?
What is life without communication? That is a sobering question to ponder. I have not been able to communicate with my true voice for very long. Yet I at least had some capacity to communicate in limited ways before S2C. I was absolutely amazed with how spelling rescued me from the margins of the human experience! Communicating with my words opened my eyes to the vast beauty of communication.
It is not just speaking, but also listening, that compose communication. Not only the broadcast, but also the receiving. It is a fundamental phenomenon for life. It is the flow of feelings and ideas between entities. It allows for connections across beings. For me, it is an incredible portal to empathy and attaining acceptance and inclusion. It is profoundly important for self-advocacy.
More personally, it is the avenue for sharing emotions with loved ones. Affection, humor, joy, support, and shared sadness are all vital to building connections with others. It is through communication that we are able to share these. Being able to finally communicate my true voice means that I can more richly enjoy the human experience.
Who inspires you? How would you want to inspire others?
I find so much inspiration from so many. My mother is my most amazing source of strength and love! My late father was my biggest cheerleader, and his spirit keeps me feeling so loved. My older sister is my true ally and soulmate. My younger sister is my best friend and accomplice! They all inspire me with their love, determination, integrity, and joyful hearts.
My friends are so inspiring, too. My Best Buddy showed me that I am worth befriending. She is so full of happiness and kindness! In my friends, I find truths that I previously had not believed: that people can learn to value me; that my existence is important; that friendship is a powerful thing. They inspire me with their openness and support.
My community of spellers inspires me to be an advocate for us. We have so much to offer, yet so much to overcome. I am inspired by their stories and triumphs!
For my own contribution to inspiration, I mainly hope to inspire others to be kind. Kind to others despite differences in ability, race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status; kind to their own souls; kind to our environment and our fellow denizens of Earth. And I hope to inspire others to have fun in their kind lives!
You’ve become a regular at the Neurolyrical Cafe. Tell me your thoughts on the Neurolyrical Cafe and becoming a poet and songwriter.
It is such an amazing series of events. It is beyond wonderful to see my peers share their voices. I love seeing our different voices and styles. It is also fantastic to share my own work with an understanding audience. Thank you for organizing it.
Would you mind sharing one of your poems in this interview?
Imagine a map of the world. Where does your mind’s eye go?
It is so difficult to choose. I would say Ireland. It is my father’s homeland, much of my family is there. It is also alive with spirituality and rich history. It is gorgeous.
Yes, I visited Ireland for the first time in February, 2020. It is absolutely gorgeous and you feel like you are walking through history. The Cliffs of Moher were particularly stunning. I can’t wait to go back.
Have you ever been surprised by something a person said to you and why?
Yes, I have been surprised this way many times. Perhaps the most surprising thing is too difficult to write about now. An easier example is when someone told me I was cool! It was such an unexpected compliment that boosted my spirits. This was before I started spelling, so it felt meaningful, as if I were seen as more than my nonspeaking autism.
If your life was a book, what would the title be?
What an interesting question. I would say it is “A World of Words in My Mind.”
What is a highlight from this book?
My transition to fluency with my sister.
What is your wish for the nonspeaking community?
Wow. It is a huge answer. I wish for us to be treated with kindness and respect in this world. I wish for us to have opportunities to shine and change the world.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
It is such an exciting prospect! Watching my possible paths grow since learning Spelling to Communicate has been so thrilling! It is hard to know now how far I can go. But I hope I will be with my family, awesome friends, fellow spellers, and my all-time wonderful support team. I hope to be shaping the world for the better. I hope to be learning and exploring and appreciating what the universe contains through travel, study, and writing. That is as much as I can predict now!
Is there anything else you want to add?
I just want to thank you and all my community for seeing me as a person with value and a voice.
Danny Kentaro Whitty is a verbal, just not speaking, autistic and apraxic human. He lives with his family in California and is a speller and friend. Follow his blog, dannywithwords.