Meet Ällei - the accessible chatbot


Natural Language Understanding fascinates me and recently I started collaborating with the team of the Sommerblut Festival in Cologne to deliver them a customized chatbot that will be able to communicate with everyone, respecting accessibility standards to include all people. It will be able to communicate in German Sign Language (DGS), as well as service blind people, and we aim to incorporate the simple language concept.

I find it to be an amazing challenge to start out with the requirement of really being inclusive. In ordinary social contexts, it is often not obvious, but when analyzing the specific needs a blind person has browsing the internet, it is drastically different from a person having impaired hearing. To hold the same conversation with both of them is proving quite a challenge. And this is just the first step down into a very deep field of digital inclusiveness. How can people with a speech impediment use our tool? How do we include people speaking German as a foreign language?

Such vast challenges are often obfuscated by the technical framework of our digital lives.

I find digital accessibility a hugely interesting area, one that I am just now starting to explore.

This is a work in progress. We have some interesting ideas and will present a conceptual prototype, come check again after March 6th, when the 2022 festival started. Or come to the official digital presentation for the bot.

This bot is my first paid software work and I am getting to work with several awesome people and teams to realize different parts of the project. Here, I am not responsible for anything in the Front end, the product you will interact with here is by no means finished and may not respond at times, since we are moving and restarting it for production purposes. Nevertheless, all the intended core features of the bot are present and you can try it out there in the corner. If you wish to see more of the realization process, the entire project is on a public GitHub and is intended to ship as open source.

In the final version (for now), every single sentence will be accompanied by a video in German Sign Language (DGS). It can gracefully recover from some common input errors and can make live calls to external databases, displaying further information about all the events of the festival and teaching the Fingeralphabet. It supports free text input and is completely screen-reader compatible. It is scripted in easy language, to further facilitate access. It is mostly context-aware and features quite a bit of dynamic content generated based on user input.

Have a look at the GitHub Repository here: Check out the Repo

If Ällei is for some reason not present on the page here, check out the prototype page, also found in the GitHub Repo.

Check out the prototype page

I regard accessibility as a core question of both design and computation, really making tangible the prestructured way of our interaction with technology in general.

Check out the Sommerblut Website

Update: we now have a launch date, which will be held online. Further information can be found here: Check out our Launch Event

Update 2: The Chatbot is now online for a while already and finds itself in a “public beta”, so to speak, a phase where it can be used and evaluated by users and is collecting feedback. Also, since this is Google, after all, all the inputs are collected and then further used to improve weak spots in the architecture of the bot. Find the public Chatbot