Write On Assistive Technology!
Building software tools to help people with disabilities today
Guy Barker – Founder
and enthusiast, Herbi.org
Guy Barker is a Senior Software Design Engineer with
Microsoft Corp. All his Herbi.org work is done in his spare time.
Contact Barker@Herbi.org for information about any of the tools shown here. Demonstration videos
are at Herbi.org.
How you can help!
All the improvements made to these
projects are based on feedback from occupational therapists, teachers, and
parents who are using the software.
If you know of someone who might find these tools helpful and have ideas on
how they can be made more useful
to the student, let me know. In many cases the software can be updated based
on your input.
It’s your thoughts that
make the difference!
What is Herbi.org?
Herbi.org is a collection of technologies enabling
people with disabilities to develop their handwriting skills and communicate
through handwriting and speech. Herbi.org includes four tools:
Writer Handwriting Development
Letters Letter Recognition
Numbers Simple Addition
In 2003 I met a University student who could handwrite
but was unable to speak. The student communicated through the use of pen and
paper. At the time I worked in the Tablet PC team at Microsoft, and thought
that a Tablet PC might provide the student with another means of
communication. The student could handwrite on the computer screen and the
computer would speak the words. To explore this, I built a “handwriting to
speech” program called InkTalk, by linking the Tablet PC’s built-in
handwriting recognition and
This sparked my interest in exploring how current
technologies can help people with disabilities in new ways. I learnt that someone working with the
Easter Seals organization had used a Tablet PC to help students with
dysgraphia, and a parent told me that her daughter had a breakthrough with her
reading skills when she could use her assistive technology in the more relaxed
environment provided by a Tablet PC.
I set up the Herbi.org web site with free software tools
so people can try out the software and provide feedback to help me make the
tools more useful. The four tools shown here are actively being worked on
thanks to all the valuable feedback I’ve received.
Aloud by Handwriting
The Tablet PC Speech Assistant communication tool
helps people who cannot speak, but who can handwrite. This software was
written by a friend for his mother who had ALS, (also known as Lou Gehrig’s
Disease, or Motor Neurone Disease). This software is particularly interesting
as it integrates handwriting with the selection of words and phrases from
I’ve updated the software based on feedback from people
with ALS, individuals at the ALS Association, and other experts in the field
of speech disabilities. I’ve added an on-screen keyboard, and made it easier
to add or remove words and phrases. I am currently working with a person who
has had a stroke and has lost the ability to speak in order to determine if
the Speech Assistant can improve his ability to communicate.
The Tablet PC Speech Assistant runs on Windows computers
running the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition or Windows Vista operating system.
with Handwriting Development
The Herbi Writer Handwriting Development software
shows sample letters being formed, and provides positive feedback when the
student writes letters which match the samples.
In 2006 I was contacted by an occupational
therapist who was looking for
handwriting development software to
help her students, who had a range of disabilities. Based on her input I built
Herbi Writer. The student copies a sample letter, and Herbi Writer evaluates
the student’s letter depending on how closely it matches the sample. The
software is usually used at computers which have some sort of stylus to write
with, but it can be run on a regular desktop computer in order to consider its
potential to help your students.
Based on feedback from OTs and teachers from all over
the US, Herbi Writer includes features such as modes to trace over a sample
letter or to write at a distance from the sample, game mode, speech or sounds
when the student’s letter has been evaluated, and three skill levels. Herbi
Writer comes with sets of sample letters and a set of sample shapes for
students who have yet to progress to letters. It is also possible for the OT
or teacher using Herbi Writer to create
custom sets of letters.
the Dots feature was added in response
to feedback from an Autism center where Herbi Writer is used.
In the future, Herbi
Writer will present sample letters from
more alphabets than the English and Spanish versions available
today. With the introduction of less
expensive Netbook computers, it is
hoped that Herbi Writer will be used by students around the world.
software runs on any Windows XP or Vista computer.
Herbi Letters software presents a letter and the student is to select the same
letter from a set of nearby letters. While the effectiveness of this software
is still being determined, the OT did say that “he LOVES when Herbi tells him
he's done a good job!” I built Herbi Letters After being contacted by an OT
looking for software that might help a particular student who cannot recognize
all the letters of the alphabet.
project Herbi Numbers is aimed at exploring what tools might be useful to
students who have access only to old computers without current hardware or
software updates. Herbi Number presents an addition question next to a set of
colorful items. Positive feedback is shown when the student’s answer is
correct. Initial comments from a school that does not have modern hardware has
been encouraging, and updates will be made to Herbi Numbers based on the
people say about Herbi Writer…
been meaning to get back in touch with you to let you know how pleased I and
my fellow OT's are with Herbi writer. We use it almost every day. I have one
student in particular that I wanted to share his response with you. He is a
four year old autistic student who before starting with Herbi writer had
almost no tolerance for holding a pencil, crayon or marker nor using it
appropriately. I started using Herbi with him and now he requests it with his
PECs and accepts hand over hand assistance to make the figures correctly to
see Herbi smile, he scribbles independently and likes to hear it talk and the
watch the ink disappear. He is attending to the figures and is making the
association to tracing success and the Herbi response. We are all very pleased
with his progress in such a short time.
New York: The
kids that use the program really like it and ask if they can work with Herbi
all the time.
been sharing it with colleagues; it is working well. ... will include Herbi in
my recommendations with students with graphomotor problems.
had to tell you: I love the way the
formation patterns can be customized!
see the kids are very responsive esp with a voice reinforcer. It is a great
have been using your herbi program for handwriting for a few months with my
special needs kids that have trouble with legibility in their writing –they
are happy with the program and enjoy it.
trace function made an ENORMOUS difference with <the student>. He does
not want to put Herbi Writer down now.
have trained some classroom teachers to use your program in the classroom so
it serves as a nice "inclusion strategy" as another option for
writing. It has also proven to be a "simple to learn",
"motivating option" for some students that have struggled with
would just like to say that I have just downloaded your Herbi program for use
on my Smartboard, and my students love it.
wanted to let you know I was finally able to get with our technology person
and get Herbiwriter set up on a Smart board.
I am so impressed!!
have also presented Herbi Writer to some classes and got cheers from the
students and the teacher! My student who receives OT in that class just
beamed and he demonstrated for everyone!
2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Build InkTalk - a simple “handwriting to speech” tool after meeting a student with a speech disability.
Research uses of the Tablet PC as an AT tool. Discuss mobile AT with Director of IT for the Easter Seals.
Build Picture Helper, a tool to annotate images viewed in a browser.
Explore ways to make cartoons and other line-based diagrams more accessible.
Build prototype software including BicycleBits and OinkMail.
Demonstrate prototype software at a Microsoft Research Faculty Summit.
Build Herbi Writer handwriting development
Demonstrate Herbi.org software at ITiCSE ‘07 conference.
Make Tablet PC Speech Assistant software available at Herbi.org
Herbi Writer article published in OT Advance Magazine
Enable Herbi Writer for SmartBoard
use in schools.
Update Speech Assistant based on feedback from two people with ALS.
Demonstrate software at Autism
Center and University of Washington.
Build letter recognition software Herbi Letters
Provide Herbi Writer CDs for distribution
at Autism Conference
Run Herbi Writer on a netbook
Herbi Writer demonstrated at a Ministry of Education in South America. Make a Spanish version
Add new Herbi Writer features including Trace mode and Join the Dots.
Start prototype software Herbi Numbers.
Add new Speech Assistant features based on feedback from AAC experts, and investigate its potential value to a stroke patient.