Rosemary Crossley Has Died

A celebration of Rosemary's life and work will be held at 2:00pm on 5 June, 2023 at St. Paul's Cathedral, Flinders Street, Melbourne.

All those who have been helped by her therapy, her writings, or her example are invited to attend. The service will be streamed for those unable to attend on the day. 

No flowers: instead, write to your MP calling for resources and advocacy for people without speech.

In Tribute to Rosemary

It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that the Anne McDonald Centre Committee of Management announce the death yesterday of its Director and co-founder, Rosemary Crossley.

Dr. Rosemary Crossley, AM, PhD, died on 10/5/2023.  She was 78 years old. She became famous as a therapist with and advocate for people with little or no functional speech.

Crossley was born on 6/5/1945 at Horsham.  She was educated at Morongo school and went on to the Australian National University. After a brief period in the Australian Public Service she began working at the Victorian Spastic Centre with people with severe handicaps.

In 1974 she was hired as a playleader at St. Nicholas Hospital, a Parkville institution for severely handicapped children run by the Victorian Health Commission. It was there that she met Anne McDonald.  McDonald had severe cerebral palsy, could not walk, talk, or feed herself, and had been diagnosed as severely retarded.

Crossley decided to see if she could find a way for McDonald to communicate by pointing – first at choices on a communication board, then at word blocks, then letter blocks, and finally on a letter board.

This brought Crossley into conflict with her superiors at the hospital, and eventually McDonald asked to leave. The Health Commission refused to allow this, and were taken to the Victorian Supreme Court on a very rare habeas corpus action. Anne won the action, and left St. Nicholas to live with Crossley and her partner Chris Borthwick for the next thirty-two years.

“Annie’s Coming Out”, Crossley and McDonald’s account of their struggle, was an international bestseller and went on many school curriculums. It was later made into a movie of the same name, which won the AFI Best Picture award in 1984.

The court case, the book, and the film exposed the shortcomings of St. Nicholas Hospital and of the system that had created it, and led directly to the closure of the hospital a few years later – the first step in the deinstitutionalisation of care for people with disabilities in Victoria.

In 1986 Crossley founded the DEAL Communication Centre in Caulfield. The Centre began by working mainly with people with cerebral palsy, but soon found itself taking on clients with other diagnoses – Down Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, developmental disabilities, and, increasingly, autism. In case after case Crossley was able to establish a means of communication with the client, demonstrating that their diagnoses of intellectual disability had been made in error.

Crossley described her methods as Facilitated Communication Training, involving coactive hand-on-hand movement at the beginning of the training process. While she always aimed for eventual independent communication, the method was criticised for allowing communicators to impose their messages on their partners.

Nonetheless, many people who Crossley had helped communicate went on to graduate from schools and universities.

When Anne McDonald died in 2010 DEAL changed its name to the Anne McDonald Centre, but the work went on. iPads, in particular, have spread hand-pointing skills more widely, and newer clients were better able to communicate more independently sooner.

Crossley wrote books (including “Speechless”, 1997) lectured at universities and presented papers at conferences around the world. She was awarded an AM in 1986 for services to people with severe communication impairments and took a doctorate in communication from Victoria University in 1998.  She was admired for her indomitable spirit, her determination, and her ability to empower others in advocating for themselves and for the people they loved.

Dr. Crossley died of cancer in the Royal Melbourne Hospital on 10/5/2023. She was working till the end: inn the hospital, she was able to assist a nurse who had a foster son with communication handicap with books, boards, and iPad apps.

Together, Crossley and McDonald changed the history of disability. Crossley’s life work of teaching, researching, and advocating for people with little or no functional speech has improved the lives of thousands of the most vulnerable people in many countries and over five decades. Her sharp intellect and wicked good humour will be missed. The world has lost an important voice speaking out for the rights of people with disabilities.

To post tributes online:

We at the Centre are collecting memories of Rosemary’s life and work. If you would like to be a part of this, please upload to the Google Drive folder below a page or so of recollections of what Rosie meant to you, what she did, and how she did it – anything that can help people trying to establish communication with little or no functional speech. Photos and videos would also be gratefully received.

Download resources written by Rosemary:

Annie's Coming Out


The physical centre is closed indefinitely. The Anne McDonald Centre is now an online resource centre for people with little or no functional speech.

For any further questions please contact:

Leane Leggo,
0438 546 080

Chris Borthwick,
0487 683 988

We are no longer accepting appointments.

The Anne McDonald Centre is not currently offering appointments.