A Legacy of Inclusion and Empowerment

All Voices, Any Place!

The Boston 2023 Initiative

Communication is more than just words; it’s a fundamental human right. Discover how we’re transforming public spaces in Boston into havens of inclusivity and understanding for everyone.

Valley Vista Park Community Communication Board

See the impact:

Boston Celebrates the Arrival of Communication Boards, Honoring Linguistic Diversity and Inclusion

This month, the greater Boston area has advanced in inclusivity with the introduction of communication boards at twenty-eight locations. Led by Smarty Symbols, the “All Voices, Any Place – Boston 2023 Edition” initiative is designed to make public spaces welcoming for non-speaking individuals, enhance early intervention awareness, and foster a sense of community and communication for everyone.

Communication boards are essential visual tools that allow non-speaking children and adults to express themselves by pointing to symbols or images. These boards are particularly beneficial for individuals with speech or language differences, autistic individuals, or those with communication disorders, as they promote independence and community interaction.

Spearheaded by Barbara Fernandes, a Brazilian-American immigrant and the CEO of Smarty Symbols, this initiative introduces 24 bilingual boards—three of which include Portuguese—directly supporting Boston’s significant Brazilian population. This marks the debut of public communication boards in Portuguese within the United States, creating cultural and linguistic connections. “To integrate our native language into Boston’s communal fabric is deeply gratifying,” says Barbara Fernandes. “These boards stand as symbols of hope and connection for Portuguese speakers, honoring our collective human journey.”

The bilingual boards underscore Smarty Symbols’ responsive approach to community needs, aligning with the company’s philosophy of empowering individuals through communication.

Boston Celebrates the Arrival of Communication Boards
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Derek Walz Inclusive Playground Initiative - Use for images showing Derek or the overall playground.

The Mission & Vision

Making Communication Accessible Everywhere

Imagine being in a bustling bookstore, a vibrant zoo, or a busy pediatric clinic and not being able to express even the simplest thoughts or needs. Communication, a skill many of us take for granted, can be a monumental struggle for some. This is where communication boards come in: simple yet transformative tools that make all forms of communication accessible to everyone.

In today’s world, we often take for granted the ease with which we communicate. However, it’s essential to acknowledge that communication is a complex and diverse experience, differing from person to person. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) plays a crucial role in facilitating different forms of expression. Communication boards, a form of AAC, offer a tactile, straightforward way for individuals to convey thoughts, needs, and emotions through symbols, images, or written words.

The Boston 2023 Initiative aims to elevate this crucial form of expression by installing communication boards in a multitude of public spaces. Beyond the traditional settings like schools, we’re talking about expanding this empowering tool to bookstores, zoos, pediatric clinics, and more. The objective isn’t just to provide a means for diverse forms of communication; it’s to raise societal awareness about AAC and normalize these alternative methods.

This initiative is not simply an exercise in accessibility; it’s a bold step toward inclusivity. It’s a statement that everyone’s preferred form of communication is valid and should be honored. This is a movement for dignity, for connection, and for building communities that embrace all forms of expression.

Playground Communication Board
City Park Playground Communication Boards by Smarty Symbols Scaled

🌟 The Origin Story: From Concept to Reality

In a rapidly evolving world where communication is at the core of human interaction, the necessity for visual supports in education and public spaces has never been greater. This is the narrative of the Boston 2023 Initiative, an ambitious project aimed at transforming public spaces into hubs of inclusivity and communication. At the heart of this endeavor is Barbara Fernandes, a pioneering Speech-Language Pathologist, founder and CEO of Smarty Symbols.

  • The Foundation: Smarty Symbols

    Barbara Fernandes founded Smarty Symbols in 2014 with a focus on creating a more inclusive set of visual supports. With a digital library that now offers over 60,000 symbols, the platform has empowered a broad spectrum of professionals and families to create personalized visual materials.

  • All Voices, Any Place: Making Inclusion a Public Affair

    Beginning in 2022, Smarty Symbols took a pioneering step by integrating communication boards into a diverse range of public spaces, effectively widening the scope of accessible communication. Then, in September 2023, the company launched "All Voices, Any Place," an initiative that moves beyond mere accessibility to promote inclusivity on a broader scale. More than just a tagline, this groundbreaking program represents Smarty Symbols' enduring commitment to transform public spaces into inclusive platforms for all types of communication. The initiative employs a two-pronged strategy: installing communication boards in various public settings and advocating for the use of cutting-edge, speech-generating apps. By partnering with community organizations and public spaces, Smarty Symbols has elevated the significance of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) in everyday life. With the "All Voices, Any Place" initiative, the company underscores the importance of ensuring that every voice can be heard, regardless of the setting.

  • Why Boston: A Nod to the ASHA Convention

    Boston serves as the ideal backdrop for this trailblazing initiative for a very special reason: it's the host city for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) convention in 2023. The ASHA convention is a pivotal annual event in the field of speech-language pathology and audiology, attracting professionals and researchers from around the globe to discuss advancements in communication sciences. The Boston 2023 Initiative, with its focus on augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), aligns seamlessly with the mission of ASHA. What better place to spotlight the importance of making all forms of communication accessible than a city teeming with professionals dedicated to that very cause? While the Boston 2023 Initiative is independent and not formally affiliated with ASHA, the presence of a major event dedicated to communication sciences adds a layer of significance.

The Boston 2023 Communication Initiative:
Extending "All Voices, Any Place" to the ASHA Convention and Beyond

Every year, the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) convention stands as a beacon for advancement and camaraderie in the fields of speech, language, and audiology. This year, the convention is set to occur from November 16-18 in Boston, a city renowned for its rich history and commitment to education. While Boston serves as a host, it is also a launchpad for an initiative that aims to extend the benefits of the ASHA convention beyond the event itself and into the community.

Traditionally, attendees arrive eager to absorb new knowledge and network with peers, enriching their professional lives. But this year, the convention holds the potential for an even greater impact. A new initiative seeks to transform these three days of concentrated expertise into a lasting imprint on the Boston community, elevating the experience from a transient event to a sustained contribution to public well-being.

This transformative vision aspires to create a ripple effect, originating in Boston but capable of affecting communities globally. Rather than merely departing with new insights and connections, attendees and the broader community have the opportunity to be part of an enduring legacy focused on inclusion and diverse means of communication. This initiative, independent yet thematically aligned with the ASHA convention, marks a seminal moment in advocating for accessible and inclusive communication everywhere.

Playground Communication Boards

"The world isn't changed by ideas that are small or 'realistic.' It's changed by big ideas that seemed impossible until they weren't."

aac device

65 Applicants: A Testament to Community Aspiration and Inclusion

The overwhelming response to our Boston Initiative has been heartening, to say the least. When the call for applications was released, we were flooded with 65 enthusiastic submissions, each one reflecting the spirit and needs of various communities. From early childhood programs to hospitals and from public schools to recreational parks, the diversity among the applicants was striking. They came from different backgrounds, and they all united under one common vision: the desire for a brighter, more inclusive future.

This overwhelming response is more than just numbers; it’s an affirmation of the importance of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) in public life. It signals a clear, collective acknowledgment that communities are ready to adopt inclusive communication as a standard practice.

18 Participating Donor Organizations & Individuals

The Boston Initiative is not just the realization of one individual’s vision; it stands tall on the collective effort of 18 donor organizations. These organizations have been the linchpin of the initiative, and their unwavering support has been instrumental in turning a “crazy idea” into a landmark achievement. Their contributions go beyond the financial, infusing the project with belief, passion, and an unwavering commitment to fostering communication and inclusivity.

28 Communication Boards: Fully Funded and Donated

In a heartwarming display of community spirit and generosity, we’re thrilled to announce that 28 communication boards have been fully funded and donated. This milestone serves as a testament to the collective commitment toward fostering inclusivity and enhancing communication within public spaces. Each board is not just a tool but a beacon of empowerment, providing a platform for augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) to flourish.

Thanks to our incredible donors, the boards are more than just installations; they’re the physical embodiment of a community’s dedication to ensure that everyone, irrespective of their communication abilities, can engage and interact in meaningful ways.

From schools to hospitals and even zoos, these boards will soon be making their mark across a diverse range of public spaces in Boston. We look forward to their installation, set to be completed by November 1st, just in time for the ASHA Convention.

This achievement is a significant leap towards fulfilling the mission of “All Voices, Any Place: 2023 Boston Edition,” and we couldn’t be more excited to share this wonderful news with you all.

Liberty Grove Elementary School Playground Communication Boards by Smarty Symbols

The recipients:

  1. Newton Early Childhood Program – Newton Public Schools
  2. Funway Park: Tewksbury, MA
  3. Blackstone Elementary
  4. Massachusetts General Hospital Pediatric Group Practice
  5. Quincy public schools
  6. Johnson Early Childhood Center – Weymouth Public Schools
  7. New England Therapy Center
  8. Milford Public Schools
  9. The Neighborhood House Charter School
  10. Boston Ability Center
  11. Liberty Elementary School (Braintree)
  12. Concord Integrated Preschool
  13. ACCEPT Education Collaborative
  14. Revere Public Schools – A.C. Whelan Elementary
  15. Dr. William Monroe Trotter School – Boston Public Schools
  16. Paul A. Dever School – Boston Public Schools
  17. Oliver Perry School K-6
  18. Gardner Pilot Academy – Boston Public Schools
  19. Henderson Upper Inclusion School
  20. Manassah Bradley Elementary School – Boston Public Schools
  21. Donald McKay K-8 School
  22. Calvary Chapel Baptist Church/Faith Christian School
  23. Zoo New England (Franklin Park Zoo) #1
  24. Zoo New England (Franklin Park Zoo) #2
  25. Compassion New England: The Happy Place
  26. Zoo New England (Stone Zoo)
  27. East Elementary School-HPS Integrated Preschool
  28. Brockton Public Schools

Just picture the transformative ripple effect we could set in motion for years to come!

Behind the Scenes:
The Unseen Labor and Unwavering Belief

From Barbara Fernandes’ audacious vision on September 25th to just days before the ASHA convention kicks off on November 16th, the Boston Initiative has rapidly transformed into an extraordinary success story.

Every initiative of this scale requires a strong foundation, and ours was no different. But what truly made this undertaking extraordinary were the individuals who listen to her call to action and tirelessly work behind the scenes.

While the milestones we’ve reached are highly visible markers of success, what often goes unnoticed is the tireless work, dedication, and community spirit that powers initiatives like “All Voices, Any Place: 2023 Boston Edition.” Making something this monumental come to life is far from a solo effort; it’s a symphony of collaborative voices, each playing a crucial role.

From the countless phone calls to friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, asking them to believe in what initially seemed like a “crazy idea,” to sending emails to thousands, the outreach efforts have been herculean. Each call made and each email sent were not mere administrative tasks but essential steps toward building a community of trust and shared vision.

The power of community really shines through when people believe in an idea enough to lift themselves and act. A few standout individuals deserve special recognition for their indispensable contributions:

Barbara Fernandes Smarty Symbols

Barbara Fernandes

Smarty Symbols, CEO

Remi Salami Smarty Symbols Sales 1

Remi Salami

Smarty Symbols, Director

Darla Gardner

SLP & Founder

Amanda Schaumburg

SLP & Founder of Panda Speech

Their efforts exemplify what can be accomplished when a community comes together with a shared vision for change. It is this deeply-rooted belief and trust in a cause that transforms an idea from mere thought into impactful action.

So while we celebrate the tangible results, let’s also take a moment to appreciate the numerous hours of work, the energy, and the passion that have fueled this initiative from the very beginning. Without this behind-the-scenes labor of love, none of this would be possible

What's to come...

#Questions & Answer

Frequently Asked Questions for Applicants

How do I apply?

To be considered you must meet the eligibility criteria above. Then visit the google forms and complete to submit on or before October 5th, 2023.  Donors will be notified as applications arrive, and each donor will select an organization to which their board will be donated  to.

Can I apply for my neighborhood playground?


I am not an "organization" I am "just a parent". Can I apply?

Hey super-parents, this one’s for you! You don’t have to be an “organization” to make a difference. If you’re a parent who wants to make your local playground or community space more inclusive, you’re more than welcome to apply.

👨‍👩‍👧 Parent Power
Never underestimate the power of a motivated parent! Your voice matters, and this is a chance to make a real change in your community.

📋 How to Apply
The process is the same as for organizations. Just fill out the application form and specify that you’re an individual applicant. If you have a specific location in mind, like your local playground, please mention it in the application.

🤝 Community Support
If you’re concerned about the installation process or maintenance, consider rallying other parents or local businesses to support your application. Together, you can make an even bigger impact!

What are my responsibilities as an applicant?

Your main responsibility is to commit to have the board insulated on or before November 10th, 2023. Donors  attending the 2023, American Speech and Hearing Convention may choose to checkout their donation. Some installations are as simple as screws on the wall or fence or zip ties. If you opt to use frames or posts, you must cover the cost of those.

Can I choose which board design gets installed?

Smarty Symbols offers several board variations with different vocabulary based on location. If you are a school and would like it placed on a playground, we will select the appropriate board for your location. if you are placing the boards in a waiting room of clinics, maybe a pediatric medical board or a core board would be most appropriate. We don’t have the ability to make vocabulary customizations as part of this donation due to increase costs and time constraints. 

I am not in Boston, can I apply?

Please do not apply unless you are in the Boston area. This effort is specific for local Boston organizations and places. If you would like to fundraise for your organization, please contact us here.

What is the value of this donation?

We will be donating both large and x-large boards. Each Smart Symbols on these sizes and materials retails for at least $1400. You are receiving a significant donation, and we hope that you are as excited about this possibility as we are. 

What do these communication boards look like?

Smarty Symbols Communication Boards are all weather-proof and high quality boards. You can see all the current designs here.

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