The Evolution of Boardmaker

by Bob Geenen February 27, 2019

The Evolution of Boardmaker

Today Boardmaker means a lot more than creating printed “boards.” It’s taken forty years to go from a collection of symbols to the most powerful and accessible educational software platform in the world. How did it happen? Have you kept up with the changes? Read on; it’s an interesting story.

Photocopies and Laminators

In 1980, Roxie Johnson, a speech therapist from San Diego, published a set of picture symbols she had created to improve the lives of children and adults with special needs. The Book of Picture Communication Symbols (PCS) allowed you to photocopy, cut, and laminate any of the 700 original symbols. Just ask around and you’ll surely find an SLP or teacher who remembers all the hours spent cutting and laminating individual symbols.


Roxie and her husband Terry joined forces to create a company called Mayer-Johnson. Together, they published a second PCS book and added a catalog of products for the special needs classroom. Terry, a former special educator, worked with the staff at the Erinoak Hospital in Canada to create a software program that could be used to make any printed activity or communication board their customers could conceive of. The resulting Boardmaker Software was launched 30 years ago this year. It came in a binder with pockets to hold the 3.5” floppy disks!

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Going Interactive

In the early 1990’s Boardmaker expanded to include fully accessible AAC software called Speaking Dynamically Pro. Boardmaker with SDP became the defacto standard AAC software sold by competing AAC companies.

Shortly after Mayer-Johnson was acquired by DynaVox Systems, Boardmaker V6 was launched. V6 added dozens of handy features and improvements and was wildly popular. This explosion in activity creation and the rapid adoption of the internet for sharing was the perfect time to launch, a free site that allowed customers to find and share activities. It was an overnight success with 1600 people signing up before the site even went live. Today the share community (Boardmaker Online) has surpassed a half million users.

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PCS Evolved

In 2010, we introduced Boardmaker Studio, an easy template-based way to make activities faster. As Boardmaker grew up, so did PCS by including new style, called PCS Thinline. This collection showcased more subtle lines and realistic images as a complement to the bold lines and bright colors of Classic PCS. Now there was a symbol set for all users in all circumstances!

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Tobii Dynavox

In 2013 DynaVox was purchased by the Tobii group, headquartered in Stockholm Sweden and with offices around the world. Boardmaker Online, was the first new Boardmaker product by Tobii Dynavox. It allowed customers to make classic print activities as well as interactive activities that run on an iPad and collect data.  Boardmaker Online made accessible symbol adapted materials available everywhere.

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Touching Special Education and AAC around the world...

In 2015, Boardmaker launched the most accessible adapted curricula on the market; Boardmaker Instructional Solutions. These learning programs comprise hundreds of books, and thousands of activities, games, communication/learning supports to meet the needs of students with special needs. A lot of people don’t realize that they became a free component of every Boardmaker Online subscription in 2018.


We, at Boardmaker, are truly honored to be the tool that a generation of SLPs, special educators, parents, and a host of others have turned to time and again to support people with special needs in living their best lives. Keep up the good work and stay in touch. The story of Boardmaker will continue to unfold....  tell us how Boardmaker has touched your life.

Bob Geenen
Bob Geenen

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