“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” ― David W. Augsburger, Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard
This week, WillowTree, the world’s largest digital product agency, released Vocable AAC to the App Store and Google Play. Vocable is a free mobile app that uses head movement tracking to help individuals with conditions that restrict or inhibit speech communicate with caregivers and loved ones. The app was originally ideated in mid-2019 by a former WillowTree designer whose loved one suffered from paralysis, and found that there was minimal software available to effectively and affordably communicate without speech. Vocable AAC was designed to enhance accessible communication for those with conditions such as MS, stroke, ALS, or spinal cord injuries, and has been released in March 2020 with expanded capabilities.
Vocable functions with FaceID and ARKit for iOS devices and ARcore for Android devices, using a front-facing camera to track minor head movements. Users can move a cursor around the screen with these movements, and hover over a button to select from a variety of phrases that the team’s researchers have identified as common communication needs between individuals and their healthcare providers and loved ones.
The app is designed to be simple, easy to use, Level AAA WCAG 2.0 compliant and accessible for individuals who experience speech impairments. The internal team at WillowTree has relied on subject matter expertise from speech and language pathologists at Duke University to help build out the roadmap. With a “mob programming” approach to the project that entails a single sprint goal every week, the aim is for the product to be quickly updated based on feedback from the impacted community and healthcare professionals. It is an open source project, so anyone in the world can contribute to it on GitHub. Forthcoming updates will include support with older devices, additional customization of the phases and categories, and more available languages.
“There are very few quality free or inexpensive apps for literate AAC users. Having a well organized app like this is will be beneficial to many people.” shared a speech language pathologist from the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, GA who demoed the app.
“We hope that the app could also serve as a communication tool for individuals who are experiencing speech impairment due to respiratory infections, as this segment of the population grows due to the COVID-19 pandemic," highlighted Drew Miller, a Senior Project Manager for the Vocable team.
WillowTree helps the world’s most admired companies build applications that matter. Founded in 2008 as a mobile app and web development company, we’ve grown with the digital ecosystem to support every stage of the product life cycle. We craft digital products that solve business needs, drive market differentiation, and make a difference for users. Our teams provide end-to-end, full-stack development (including native mobile apps, web development, voice interfaces, and cross-platform), strategy, design, and growth marketing services while baking in considerations for SEO, accessibility, and security.
To share feedback and ask questions on the product, please contact Vocable via Twitter @vocableapp or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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