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Toby Churchill/Abilia– Pioneer For Non Verbal Disabled People

Posted on 12/07/2018

In 1968, 21 year old Toby Churchill contracted encephalitis (a severe swelling of the brain) after swimming in a polluted body of water. This caused him to suffer life-altering deficits, including him becoming wheelchair bound and having lost all ability to move/talk, other than the function of blinking in his left eye.

Toby had to quickly learn new ways of communicating with the people around him. He adapted to a form of eye movement and blinking language. The use of closed questions (questions that only require a yes or no answer) in which one blink would mean yes and two would mean no. He also used an alphabet sensory board with auditory scanning, which would take a long time as he had to go through all of the rows and individual letters to form words.

At the time this made Toby aware of the severe lack of devices created to help non-verbal people communicate with those around them.  He felt that just because we was unable to talk for himself doesn’t mean that he should have to rely on other people to function normally. After a long period of intense physiotherapy and rehabilitation, he gained some movement back in his hands, giving him the ability to type, although he still couldn’t talk.

He came up with an idea. He put his engineering skills to the test and invented his own portable communication aid – a typewriter which instead of typing on paper, typed the message on an LCD display, which he then aptly named – the Lightwriter.

Originally Toby only planned to make one Lightwriter for himself, but after a while he met a lot of people in a similar situation to him and realised just how high the demand for something like this was in the disabled community. So he began manufacturing them – founding his company in 1973, a company that still makes Lightwriters today, in the UK and worldwide. Since then however, Toby Churchill’s initiative is known as Abilia and they still work hard developing Lightwriters for those with communication difficulties.

The Lightwriter is one of the devices we here at The Sequal Trust aim to provide to those in need. If you would like to know more about what we offer non-verbal disabled people and how you can get involved with helping us, then please feel free to call us on 01691 624 222 or send us an email to, we would love to hear from you.