Herbi Writer running on a Smart Board

 

Hi,

I'm Guy Barker, and I run the Herbi.org web site. I'm a professional software developer with an interest in how today's technologies can be used in new ways to help people. In 2003 I met a student with a speech disability, and since I was working in the Tablet PC team at Microsoft at the time, I was very interested in whether a Tablet PC could provide an alternative means of communication for him. (I still work at Microsoft, but Microsoft's not connected with my Herbi.org web site in any way.)

So I built a simple program called InkTalk to explore how useful it might be for the student to write on the Tablet PC and for the Tablet PC to speak what the student had written. Since then I've looked for other simple tools to build which might fill a gap in what's available to people today. Everything I do at Herbi.org is freely available for anyone to use. At the bottom of this page are some links to early things I built for Herbi.org.

After a couple of years, I learnt that a friend had built some software for someone he knew who had Motor Neurone Disease, (or ALS as it's commonly known in the US). His software, called the Tablet PC Speech Assistant, meant that this person could build up a sentence through a mix of handwriting and picking phrases from lists and have the Tablet PC speak the sentence. My friend was happy for me to make his software freely available at my Herbi.org site, and since then I know of two other people with MND who have used the software to help them communicate. Based on feedback from these two people I was able to make adjustments to the software to make it easier for the them to use. (The software requires fairly good motor control, so many people with speech disabilities won't find this software useful.)

In 2006, I was contacted by an occupational therapist who asked what Tablet PC software might be available to help her students develop their handwriting skills. It turned out there was no software available to help her students. So once I got an understanding of what would be useful for the occupational therapist, I wrote Herbi Writer. Thanks to the input and feedback of the occupational therapist, I ended up building something that's proving to be a useful tool for many students. Today there are a number of occupational therapists using Herbi Writer with their students, and I'm constantly making improvements based on feedback from everyone.

The aim of my Herbi.org site is to provide free simple tools which can plug gaps in what's available to people with disabilities. So if you have suggestions for how the handwriting development software or the speech assistant software could be made more useful to you, let me know. Or maybe you have a need for some brand new software that would help you. It's your input that makes the difference.

Guy's signature

P.S. Herbi is a herbivore dinosaur that I've been doodling for the last 25 years. Sometime he's a dragon - it depends what mood he's in. A long time ago he made a very brief appearance in a newspaper as part of my Open Minds cartoon strip. He comes from an ancient land of Pungaea, where word play was everywhere...

Herbi looking at a bar of soap with creatures all over it. He's saying "life sprang from the primordial soap!" 

 

Here's Herbi's first appearance in the newspapers, back in December 1991:

Herbi in the Leicester Mercury newpaper

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