Boosting Communication Skills Through Technology

A love of technology allowed this speech-language pathologist to help professionals worldwide provide care

When Bárbara Fernandes was an exchange student in the United States in 2004, she relied on technology to communicate with her family back home in Brazil. Throughout the six month program, “Promoting the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Society Through Assistive Technology: Culturally Appropriate Solutions,” she was given the opportunity to explore the ways technology was used to help those with disabilities. Each experience during her program was a glimpse into how assistive devices support communication. In both her personal and professional life, technology was constantly enabling communication.

That experience launched a lifelong drive for using technology to make communicating easier for people worldwide. Today, Bárbara leverages technology to support people with communication disorders and speech-language pathologists who provide services to those individuals.

When finishing up her last two years of undergraduate at Temple University, Bárbara improved her mastery of English and learned Spanish on top of her native Portuguese. Though Bárbara had always been a straight-A student and stellar communicator back home, she learned communicating fluently in a new language posed challenges.

Having faced resistance during her undergraduate program, Bárbara considered not even applying for her master’s in speech-language pathology and taking up a career in information technology instead. But that was before she attended a life-changing seminar at the 2005 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) convention. There she learned that ASHA was beginning to put in place new proficiency guidelines for students from other countries, helping non-native English speakers successfully become SLPs and audiologists.

“It was the first time I saw that someone was aware of how we were struggling,” Bárbara says. “It gave me enough validation to say, ‘you know what? You’ll get better at this, keep going.’”

And it’s that attention and sensitivity to different cultures she’s kept in mind ever since.

In 2006, while attending the bilingual track for a master’s in speech-language pathology at Texas Christian University, Bárbara was awarded another life-changing program — ASHA’s Minority Student Leadership Program. It not only gave her the tools to become a successful leader in her professional life, but the program also gave her a crucial support system.

After completing her degree and starting her first job, Bárbara continued her learning as an ASHA-certified SLP where her constant immersion in her line of work inspired her to think differently about solutions for those who have communication disorders and how to treat them.

Starting out as a Pre-K SLP working with bilingual students in Texas Public Schools to creating culturally sensitive and diverse symbol sets and over 60 specialized apps covering every area within speech therapy — from children who have speech disorders to adults who’ve suffered from a stroke — Bárbara has helped change the way patients across the globe engage in treatment.

While primarily used by U.S.-based SLPs, her apps have also been made available in seven other languages and are being used by professionals around the world. The Portuguese-translated apps are ones that have a special place in Bárbara’s heart. Ever since her experience with the exchange program, she’s wanted to make sure that people in her home country with communication disorders have access to programs that help them.

By jumping in at the start of mobile technology’s rise, Bárbara says, “I was able to create apps that therapists around the world can use, raise my profession higher through my work and impact people I’ve never met.”