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WillowTree Transforms Vocable AAC Mobile App with Conversational AI Integration, Giving Voice to Millions

WillowTree, a leading digital experience consultancy, has launched its enhanced version of Vocable AAC with the revolutionary integration of OpenAI's ChatGPT. With 17.9 million U.S. adults experiencing difficulty speaking in the past year, this free mobile app, originally designed as an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device for non-verbal individuals, now offers the power of conversational AI for a more intuitive and impactful method of communication.

The original Vocable app was released in 2020 after former WillowTree designer Matt Kubota's partner, Ana, was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that left her temporarily paralyzed and unable to speak. While Ana recovered from the disease, she could only painstakingly communicate by blinking as caregivers pointed to individual letters on a posterboard. The only other options were expensive, bulky machines that cost upwards of $10,000 and require extensive customization.

The WillowTree team was motivated to create a better solution, and the result was Vocable AAC. With subtle head movements, users control a cursor on a smartphone or tablet to type letters or select custom phrases from personalized categories. This enabled accessible communication for individuals affected by conditions such as MS, ALS, stroke, autism, and spinal cord injuries, as well as intubated hospital patients, but users still had to navigate the entire alphabet to respond. In 2021, Vocable won a Webby Award for “Experimental & Innovation Apps,” but the team did not rest on these laurels.

Today, the Vocable AAC app takes a quantum leap forward. The new Smart Assist feature actually listens to caregivers and gives the user likely response options based on generative AI natural language models. The integration of OpenAI's ChatGPT allows the app to retain conversational context, enhance predictive pattern detection, and bolster semantic understanding of a caregiver’s speech. In lay terms, this means the application now acts as a translator between caregivers and non-verbal individuals, who can communicate more naturally by pointing to AI-generated responses.

To better illustrate why this is so powerful, imagine a caregiver asking a non-verbal user, “What would you like for dinner?”

  • Without Vocable, a paralyzed user must slog through the process of blinking as a caretaker points to individual letters on an alphabet board, laboriously spelling out their dinner request. An ambulatory, non-verbal user might be able to tap certain pre-populated images of food on a bulky AAC device, assuming they can afford it.
  • With AI-enabled Vocable AAC, a tablet screen immediately populates a list of the user’s favorite restaurants. When they make a selection using subtle head movements, Vocable then populates the menu for that restaurant, allowing the user to order specific items. If the caregiver asks a follow-up question Vocable will auto-generate responses, creating a much more natural, organic, and immediate conversation for both people.

Andrew Carter, Staff Software Engineer at WillowTree, emphasizes the transformative quality of Vocable AAC's new integration: "ChatGPT is a conversational interface, it's literally made for this. It understands an entire conversation's history, providing better AI-generated responses for the non-verbal user to select."

Response from users has shown the life-changing potential of this free app:

  • “Vocable is making a major difference in the ALS community,” said Tom Meadows, founder of Steve’s Way. “I have seen people break into tears when using your app.”
  • “When so few hospitals have available technology for the communication-vulnerable, it's exciting that a platform like Vocable exists,” said Dr. John M. Costello, MA at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Vocable is easy to access and most importantly free."

This significant update from WillowTree is only a glimpse into the future of voice technology. Coming in October 2023, Hachette will publish WillowTree's President Tobias Dengel’s book, The Sound of the Future: The Coming Age of Voice Technology, illustrating how voice technology is set to revolutionize life and business — much like the internet revolution in the '90s and mobile computing a decade later.

With Vocable AAC, WillowTree continues to give a voice to millions and remind us all of our shared human connections. For more information, visit:

About WillowTree

WillowTree, a TELUS International Company, is a digital experience consultancy partnering with the world’s most admired brands to tackle their thorniest challenges. The company designs and builds mobile apps and websites, launches personalized and automated marketing campaigns, and does it all with the latest in Generative AI and machine learning. WillowTree staffs small, elite teams to minimize the time from idea to code and concept to campaign — all with a relentless focus on ROI. WillowTree’s client roster spans industries and the Fortune 500, including T-Mobile, Marriott, Allianz, Dexcom, PepsiCo, FOX Sports, Synchrony, Domino’s, and Manulife. Founded in 2008, WillowTree has a team of 1,000+ strategists, designers, engineers, and data scientists across 13 global studios. Discover more about WillowTree and its suite of services at

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