In the intersection of innovation, grit, and education, you’ll find Barbara Fernandes. Barbara Fernandes is not just an entrepreneur; she’s a visionary dedicated to empowering others in the world of speech, language, and communication

Barbara Fernandes​

Barbara Fernandes

Empowering Through Innovation

Meet Barbara Fernandes, an inspiring force shaping the landscape of speech-language pathology. As a Brazilian-American immigrant, Barbara’s transformative impact is evident through her pioneering ventures: Smarty Ears and Smarty Symbols. These companies have become beacons of change, redefining our approach to communication disorders. With an impressive track record of over seventy triumphant product launches, spanning mobile applications, cutting-edge technologies, and the most comprehensive symbol library in the field, she has masterfully converted challenges into avenues of growth. Barbara’s narrative, from her brave journey as an adult immigrant navigating the complexities of a new language and culture, to her role as an award-winning entrepreneur and best-selling author, encapsulates her resolute dedication to inclusivity, innovation, and uplifting others.


Let’s embark on a journey to uncover Barbara’s visionary leadership and lasting legacy, a legacy that has not only disrupted an industry but has also touched the lives of innumerable individuals worldwide.

Philosophy and Vision

Barbara Fernandes is a visionary leader. Her vision for Smarty Ears is bold and bright: to continually break down communication barriers and foster a world where everyone can thrive as their authentic selves. Her leadership challenges norms, empowers voices, and proves that empathy and excellence can coexist at the helm of a successful company.

  • Commitment to Excellence & Innovation

    Constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible, Barbara strives for excellence in everything she does. Whether it's developing over sixty mobile applications or designing custom playground communication boards, her relentless pursuit of perfection is evident.

  • A Different Approach of Leading

    As a wife, mother, and entrepreneur, Barbara proves that being a CEO doesn't require fitting a conventional mold. Her empathetic and authentic approach sets her apart from other leaders, and she is unafraid to challenge the status quo. "We don't have to run a company like others. We can be moms, hobbies, be empathetic with others and still be a boss. Authenticity is our strength." – Barbara Fernandes

  • Action-Oriented Impact

    Barbara doesn't just theorize about making the world a better place; she embodies the belief that everyone has the power to create profound change. Her philosophy is that ideas become impactful only when put into action.

Over A Decade of Impact

Barbara Fernandes stands as a beacon of innovation and advocacy in the fields of speech and communication.

Technology Visionary

As a Technology Visionary, she's revolutionized the integration of mobile applications for speech therapy & launched the most comprehensive Special Education Solution.

Campion of Diversity in Visual Support

Barbara shines through her relentless efforts to champion diversity in Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and visual support.

Advocate & Educator

Barbara’s work continuously raises the bar, setting new standards for inclusivity, understanding, and empathy in every endeavor.

Thought Leader

Barbara’s work continuously raises the bar, setting new standards for inclusivity, understanding, and empathy in every endeavor.

Impact Writer

Best-Selling Author who empowers minority Professionals in overcoming challenges.

Consistent Technology Visionary

Creation of Smarty Ears

As the founder and CEO of Smarty Ears, Barbara Fernandes is a name synonymous with innovation, leadership, and impact within the sphere of speech and communication disorders. Her journey at the helm of Smarty Ears spans over a decade, marked by a relentless pursuit of excellence and a commitment to transforming lives through technology.

Barbara’s work has seamlessly translated complex science into user-friendly and powerful technology, opening new doors for individuals with communication disorders. Since founding Smarty Ears in 2009, with an investment of US$4,000 (That’s right!), she has launched over 70 iOS apps on the App Store, all designed with a singular focus on helping children and adults overcome communication barriers.

Barbara’s innovative drive earned her SBIR grant by the National Institute of Health (NIH) in 2019, further solidifying her position as a leader and pioneer in her field.

Barbara’s relentless quest for innovation has given birth to Smarty Ears Online, a ground-breaking platform that acts as a comprehensive source for literacy, language, speech, and communication support. This online platform is a culmination of Barbara’s deep insights into the challenges faced by professionals and individuals with communication disorders.

Her vision has not only shaped the trajectory of Smarty Ears but has also inspired an entire industry to embrace and adopt mobile technologies.

Campion of Diversity in Visual Support

Founding Smarty Symbols

Barbara’s vision went beyond technology; it extended into the realm of representation. Driven by her passion and guided by her background in photography, Barbara founded Smarty Symbols in 2014. Armed with a talented team of illustrators, she set out on a mission to create a symbol library that celebrated individuality and inclusion. Her innovative “Character of Choice” feature was born – a groundbreaking concept that allowed users to personalize visual supports with characters representing various skin tones and diverse backgrounds.

Creating thousands of symbols is no small feat, but Barbara’s dedication and unwavering commitment propelled her forward. Over the years, Smarty Symbols evolved into a comprehensive, web-based platform, offering a vast library of over 30,000 symbols and empowering educators, SLPs, and families worldwide to effortlessly create personalized visual support materials.

Thought Leader and Public Speaker

Barbara Fernandes, the brilliant mind behind transformative advancements in speech therapy technology, emerged as a true thought leader known in the field as “GeekSLP.” With unparalleled expertise, Barbara’s influence extended far beyond her innovative products, making her a sought-after speaker and educator who redefined the landscape of speech therapy. Barber filled rooms with hundreds of educators around the world.

Barbara’s journey into the world of public speaking and educational engagements was marked by a commitment to leveraging technology for the betterment of speech therapy. Her reputation as “GeekSLP” wasn’t just a title; it was a testament to her deep understanding of how technology could revolutionize the field. This title became synonymous with her passion for pushing boundaries and embracing the digital frontier.

Barbara’s influence wasn’t confined to the United States. Her impact transcended borders, as she delivered keynote addresses and presentations to diverse audiences. From being a guest speaker at the Canadian Association Convention for Speech Therapy to addressing speech language pathologists in Brazil, Barbara’s voice was a unifying force, bridging continents through the language of innovation.

Barbara Fernandes’ legacy wasn’t just about creating innovative products; it was about reshaping the conversation around speech therapy. As “GeekSLP,” she led the charge in using technology to amplify the impact of speech therapy, forever earning her a place as a true visionary and influencer in the field.

What does Barbara present on?


  • Empowering Speech-Language Pathology Through Artificial Intelligence: Revolutionizing In-Person and Virtual Assessments and Interventions, American Speech and Hearing Convention, 2023 (Boston)

  • Understanding and Setting Up the iPad as a Therapy Tool, 2017 (Sacramento) 

  • Using the iPad to Create Printable Material, Assistive Technology Industry Association, 2016 (Orlando) 

  • What’s new for articulation therapy on the iPad?, Asha Convention, 2015

  • Assessing and Treating Bilingual Children on the iPad, Asha Convention 2015

  • Efficient Caseload Management Across Apps, TSHA 2014



  • How to Implement and Fund Public Display Communication Board in the Playground and Beyond, TSHA 2024

  • AAC in our Neighborhoods: Planning and Execution of Community Based AAC Displays, ASHA 2023 (New Orleans)


Anything she enjoys talking about...

  • Do You Want to be Your Own Boss? Impact Driven Entrepreneurship and Innovation for SLPs, TSHA 2024

  • Developing a New Speech Perception in Noise training for Autism, TSHA 2020 (Houston)

  • From Surviving to Thriving as a Minority SLP, Asha 2022 (New Orleans)


Lighthearted Impact

Barbara invites you into both her professional world and personal life, providing a rare glimpse into the passion and dedication that drives her groundbreaking work. From designing over sixty mobile applications and the comprehensive symbol library, Smarty Symbols, to receiving a prestigious NIH research grant, Barbara's impact is felt across the industry. But who is Barbara when the work is done? She rides motorcycles and makes wine from home grown grapes.

This video also uncovers the human side of this award-winning Brazilian-American Speech-Language Pathologist, revealing her journey, her inspirations, and the spirit that continues to shape the world of special education.

Impact Writer

Empowering Voices, Shaping Journeys

In the pages of her book, Barbara shared her autobiographical accounts as an adult immigrant navigating the complexities of the US while learning both English and Spanish. Her journey was one of determination, facing isolation, microaggressions, and her own inner battles. From these struggles emerged a narrative of triumph, as Barbara rose to become a titan within the SLP field.

Sis, You Got This From Surviving To Thriving As a Minority SLP

Catalysts of Change

Barbara Fernandes, the visionary force behind groundbreaking advancements in the field of speech-language pathology, found herself drawn to a new challenge: writing a book that would light the way for minority women facing hurdles in their profession. Her book, "Sis, you got this. From Surviving to Thriving as a Minority Speech-Language Pathologist," wasn't just a collection of words; it was a beacon of hope and inspiration.

Barbara was recognized at the opening ceremony of the 2022 American Speech and Hearing Association Convention

Amazon Best Selling Author

But Barbara's story wasn't a solo endeavor. The book beautifully weaved in the experiences of her colleagues—Black and Brown, Latinx, Asian, and immigrant individuals—whose stories echoed her own. Together, they shared relatable challenges and persistent determination, creating a chorus of voices that resonated with countless others facing similar struggles.

Her book was more than a resource; it was a source of connection, validation, and strength for individuals who shared similar paths. Barbara Fernandes had taken her journey from striving to thriving and turned it into a gift that would continue to inspire and guide generations to come.

As an Amazon best-selling author, Barbara had not only transformed her own narrative but had provided a roadmap for others to do the same.

Elevating Minority Women in Speech-Language Pathology

The impact of Barbara's book reverberated far beyond its pages. It was a catalyst for important conversations, pushing the field forward in ways previously unexplored. Thought-provoking questions challenged the status quo and inspired readers to envision a more inclusive, equitable future for speech-language pathology.

"When they don't welcome you to their table, we can just build our own and invite others"
Barbara Fernandes
Best Selling Author

What do Others Say About Barbara?

"...there are individuals like Barbara Fernandes among us who make us better! Barbara uses Sis, You Got This! to bring to life the importance of the support we can provide to each other that helps each of us persevere, rise above, and contribute to the discipline of human communication and related disorders in ways that would otherwise not be possible. She helps us realize that the real story is not in our protracted progress or the trials themselves. The real story is in the triumphs, the thriving, and the victory over seemingly insurmountable odds."

Vicki Deal-Williams, MA, CCC-SLP

CEO at the American Speech- Hearing Association

Barbara is one of my resilience Heroes because she intentionally activates all four types of resilience physical resilience through her love of Zumba and Scuba Diving, mental and emotional resilience through her mindfulness and expression of creativity savoring and gratitude and social resilience through her willingness to connect in powerful ways with others who feel dismissed minimized or marginalized by others. If you haven't read her book "Sis you got This!" I strongly encourage you to get a copy. Barbara you are my resilience hero for sharing your story and for increasing resilience in others.

Judy Rich

President of The American Speech-Hearing Association 2021-2022

Barbara is a leader in innovative technologies as well as her approach to business. I have had the pleasure of working together with Barbara on several projects which encourage inclusive participation within a competitive, niche industry, and she is consistent in her flexibility and open-mindedness. These characteristics are essential for furthering the success and continued growth of an industry as a whole, rather than just an individual business offering.

Mai Ling Chan


I am not surprised that at such a young age, she is already the CEO of an innovative company like Smarty Ears, showing that social entrepreneurship can have a significant impact in our society. Because she has the rare capacity of combining highly developed skills in technology and expertise as a multilingual speech therapist, she is in an excellent position to create products that are functional, timely and effective for therapists, families and persons with communication disabilities. She is definitely a pioneer with vision and we should expect great things from her in the future.

Dr. Rosangela Boyd

Director, Service-Learning and Academic Initiatives at Texas Christian University

Has She Done Enough Yet?

Apparently, she didn’t think so!

Beyond Barriers, Into Play: Barbara's Vision of Inclusivity

Barbara Fernandes’ commitment to inclusivity extended beyond the realm of speech therapy and technology. Her vision encompassed making public spaces more welcoming and accessible through the innovative creation of playground communication boards.

Recognizing that communication challenges could isolate individuals in public settings, Barbara’s passion led her to address this issue head-on. Through her company, Smarty Symbols, she embarked on a mission to design and manufacture custom playground communication boards. These boards were more than just practical tools; they were symbols of inclusivity, turning play areas into spaces where every child could engage and communicate.

With these communication boards, children with speech and communication disorders had a means to express themselves, engage with their peers, and participate in the joy of play. These boards bridged the gap between children with diverse communication abilities, fostering understanding, empathy, and a sense of unity among all children.

Through her work in speech therapy technology and her advocacy for inclusivity in public spaces, Barbara Fernandes carved a legacy that touched countless lives. Her impact was felt not only in the field of speech therapy but in the hearts of individuals and families who experienced the power of her innovations firsthand.

The Outcome: Hundreds of Spaces More Inclusive in Just One Year!

National Institute of Health Research & Development Grant Award

Barbara Fernandes' NIH SBIR Award and Innovative Impact

Barbara's Breakthrough for Children in Noise

In the dynamic landscape of research and innovation, receiving an SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is a mark of unparalleled recognition and distinction. Barbara Fernandes, achieved this extraordinary feat through her groundbreaking project, “Listening 2 Faces.”

Barbara’s success in securing an SBIR Phase I Award for her transformative research speaks volumes about the caliber of her work and its potential to revolutionize communication for children with developmental disabilities.

“Listening 2 Faces” isn’t just a project; it’s a visionary solution to a crucial challenge. For children facing difficulties in understanding speech amidst noise, this innovation holds the promise of a brighter future.

The grant aimed to develop an adaptive listening training system in the form of an iPad app, designed to alleviate the struggles children with developmental disabilities, including autism (ASD) and hearing loss, face when comprehending speech in noise.

Barbara Fernandes, alongside co-investigators Dr. Sullivan and Dr. Irwin, built upon previous research to create the groundbreaking prototype of Listening 2 Faces.

Barbara’s dedication to this transformative project was palpable. She acknowledged the immense effort required to create an app like Listening 2 Faces, emphasizing the potential it held to significantly impact children’s lives

Other Awards

Publications & Grant Award

  • Baron, A., Harwood, V., Woodard, C., Anderson, K., Fernandes, B., Sullivan, J., & Irwin, J. (2024). Using the Listening2Faces App with Three Young Adults with Autism: A Feasibility Study. Advances in Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Original paper examining the feasibility of the Listening2Faces app as a tool for assisting young adults with autism, showcasing significant strides in technology-aided therapy for autism spectrum disorders.

  • Irwin, J., Sullivan, J., Fernandes, B., & Lotto, A. (2023). Preliminary Findings From the Hearing Assessment in Response to Noise Screener: A New Pediatric Tool for Measuring Speech Identification in Noise. SIG 7 Auditory Rehabilitation Research Article, December 2023. This research article presents the development and preliminary findings of a novel speech-in-noise screener for children, showing its potential utility and efficacy.

  • Fernandes, B. (2022). Sis, you got this! From surviving to Thriving as a Minority Speech-Language Pathologist. Smarty Ears.

  • Fernandes, B. (2011). iTherapy: The revolution of Mobile devices within the field of Speech Therapy. Perspective on School-Based Issues, 12, 35-40.

  • Fernandes, B. (2011). The new era of Articulation Therapy: Using convenient technology to facilitate learning and engagement. Communiqué Newsletter, February 2011.

  • Fernandes, B. (2010). Apps to revolutionize your therapy. Advance Magazine, August 23, Volume 20, No. 17.

  • Fernandes, B., & CLD Task Force. (2010). Alternative Service Delivery Models for Bilingual (Spanish) Students Identified with Speech Impairments in the Area of Articulation and/or Language in School Settings. Communicologist, Vol. 36, No. 3.

  • Fernandes, B. (2009). Cultural Competence. ADVANCE Magazine for SLPs.

  • Fernandes, B. (2008). Traveling the world of speech pathology. NSSHLA Now Winter.


  • 2018-2020: Developer and Creator, “Hearing Assessment in Response to Noise Screener (HeARS)”. Start Preliminary Proof of Concept Fund, Phase I and II. Awarded to Southern Connecticut State University.

  • 2019-2020: Primary Investigator, “Listening 2 Faces: Improving perception of speech in noise in children with communication disorders”. Small Business Innovation Research Award (SBIR), National Institutes of Health, Division of Deafness and Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Awarded to Smarty Ears, LLC.

  • 2004: FIPSE/CAPES Exchange Program Recipient “Promoting the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Society Through Assistive Technology: Culturally Appropriate Solutions” Philadelphia, PA.