Innovation for Independence

AzuleJoe: the first open source communication aid.

Publish date:
16/01/2015 - 10:40am
Last updated:
19/01/2015 - 2:07pm

My little brother Richard has never been able to speak. Until he was 19, my family managed to communicate with him on fewer than 100 signs. At 19 he received a Voice Output Communication Aid (VOCA) like the one used by Stephen Hawking. Richard's VOCA has a simple set of folders and icons. If you press the folder for animal, and then press the picture of the dog, the VOCA will say "dog". Now Richard can use hundreds of words and it's not just me, mum and dad who can understand: it's everybody. The VOCA changed his life. But he's not alone. Approximately 32,000 people in the UK require VOCA but only 8,900 (28%) can access one ( This leaves 21,000 people without a voice. The main barrier is that VOCA cost an average of £2000 ( We created AzuleJoe, an open-source, open-access VOCA system, to meet this need. We believe communication is a human right for those 23,000 people in the UK who are literally silenced by poverty. There is a range of expensive solutions for users but AzuleJoe is the first open-source solution that is free at the point of delivery. Link to: 'Joe's little brother with his VOCA'

Insight & Impact

AzuleJoe and its pagesets were developed as a partnership between Kate McCallum and Joseph Reddington, both of whom have siblings with complex disabilities who use communication devices. In addition to being intimately familiar with the needs of users and the impact of communications technology on their lives, Ms McCallum is a provision assistive technologist with 15 years experience in AAC and an is a qualified Occupational Therapist. Dr Reddington is an expert in mapping the provision and use of VOCA in the UK. In 2012 he released a Dataset ( that recorded and mapped every VOCA purchase by the NHS between 2006-2012, exposing a range of postcode lotteries in the process. He has co-authored many publications VOCA co-design and the ethics of VOCA use. All aspects of this project have been co-designed with users with a range of complex needs. Effective VOCA use is life-changing ( From icons like Stephen Hawking to everyday examples like our siblings, being able to express yourself, make choices, and tell your family that you love them are of massive impact on the lives of disabled people and those around them. Link to: 'Kate’s sibling testing an early version of the pageset':

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Katie Clarke's picture
Communication is vital for everyone! Having the right technology and support to go with it is essential for our young people to be safe, happy, included and lead purposeful lives. Money should be not a barrier to having a voice.
Kate McCallum's picture
I could not aggree more. Thank you Katie.
liz jones's picture
Far too many people are suffering in silent worlds time to lift the lid and let the voices out ..