AI for Accessibility Program

November 19, 2019 12:00 AM
  • AI for Accessibility Program Image

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming part of our daily lives. From chatbots to self-driving cars AI is covering all fields in assisting people. This fascinating technology is also taking strides to aid people with disabilities.  Technology is already assisting people with disabilities to hear, see and reason with impressive accuracy. But according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), today only 1 in 10 disabled have access to assistive technology. The new AI technology can increase availability and affordability to solutions, to more people with disabilities. 

One of the largest technology firms Microsoft, has been working on AI solutions such as real-time speech-to-text transcription, visual recognition services, and predictive text functionality. Microsoft's AI for Accessibility program aims to bring these AI advances to those in need. 

AI advances hold the promise of enabling those who are disabled with vision, hearing, cognitive, learning, mobility disabilities and mental health conditions to do more in three specific scenarios: 

Microsoft's AI for Accessibility program aims to do just that. It is run by the Accessibility team and its leader, Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer. Building on their success over the past three years with developers and engineers across Microsoft, their expanded mission is to provide a new level of tools and support for developers around the world.

The AI for Accessibility program will do this in three ways: 

First, seed grants of technology will be made available to non-governmental organizations, developers, inventors and universities that are taking an AI-first approach aimed at building solutions that assist people with disabilities with their work, life and human connections. 

Next, it will identify the projects that show the most promise and make larger investments of technology and access to Microsoft AI experts to help bring them to scale. 

And third, as AI is infused into inclusive designs across our offerings, the program will work with Microsoft's partners to incorporate AI innovations into platform-level services to empower others to maximize the accessibility of their offerings.

The program also started to see the impact AI can have in accelerating accessible technology. Microsoft Translator is today empowering people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing with real-time captioning of conversations. Helpicto, an application that turns voice commands into images, is enabling children in France with autism to better understand situations and communicate with others. And, ‘Seeing AI’ and auto alt-text features are helping narrate the world for people who are blind or low vision.

One recent inspiring example is Eric Bridges, CEO of the American Council of the Blind, who uses the Seeing AI on a daily basis. He shared how he uses it to help his 3-year-old son, Tyler, to complete his schoolwork. Eric uses the app to scan Tyler’s work, giving him the ability to review his son’s work. Seeing AI, Tyler can complete a task – and forge new connections with his father – an activity, that just two years ago, required the assistance of a sighted person.

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