Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility grant

Action shot of 800 m T54 final at the 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games, Day 04. Sauvage won silver in this event Image credit: Australian Paralympic Committee/Australian Sports Commission

Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility grant is a five year $25 million program that harnesses the power of AI to amplify human capability for more than one billion people around the world with a disability. Before we look at some ingenious work that got awarded the grant and how they are helping, let us take a look at some facts published by World Health Organization which affirms the viability of the program [1].

“Globally, more than 1 billion people need 1 or more assistive products.

With an ageing global population and a rise in noncommunicable diseases, more than 2 billion people will need at least 1 assistive product by 2030, with many older people needing 2 or more.

Today, only 1 in 10 people in need have access to assistive products.”

AI is now capable of hearing, seeing, and reasoning with increasing accuracy. Real-time speech-to-text transcription, computer vision capabilities, and predictive text functionality are just a few examples of how AI is useful to people with disabilities today. AI for Accessibility aims to accelerate the development of accessible and intelligent AI solutions that build on recent advancements in Microsoft Cognitive Services to help developers create intelligent apps that see, hear, speak, understand and better interpret people’s needs. This grant program is a call to action for developers, NGO’s, academics, researchers and inventors to bring their ideas to the next level. There is a world of opportunities for applying AI to accessibility, and these are the areas the AI for Accessibility program will focus initially [2].

Employment

Challenge: The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is more than double that of people without a disability.

Opportunity: Use AI to help people develop additional skills in the workplace and evolve the culture around inclusive hiring.

Daily Life

Challenge: Technology is not always affordable and is sometimes difficult to apply to an individual’s unique scenario.

Opportunity: Build modern solutions for people with disabilities by making software and devices smarter, more contextually relevant, and improve daily life.

Communication & Connection

Challenge: Communication and connection are fundamental to providing equal access to information and opportunities. Lack of options excludes some from employment and society.

Opportunity: Modernize communication options for people, regardless of how they listen, speak, or write.

As, Brad Smith, chief legal officer Microsoft explains [3], the AI for Accessibility program works in three stages:

Initially seed grants of technology will be provided to developers, universities, nongovernmental organizations, and inventors taking an AI-first approach focused on creating solutions that will create new opportunities and assist people with disabilities with work, life and human connections. Then the projects will be chosen that show the most promise and make larger investments of technology and access to Microsoft AI experts to help bring them to scale. And thirdly while Microsoft infuse AI and inclusive design across the offerings it will also work with partners to incorporate AI innovations into platform-level services to empower others to maximize the accessibility of their offerings.

Given below are few examples of projects that are awarded the grant and have products in ground:

Zyrobotics [4]:

Zyrobotics helps to make STEM accessible to all children, with tools to learn coding and to become confident and proficient in a digital world

Zyrobotics uses Microsoft AI to develop ReadAble Storiez, a STEM-based reading fluency program for students with disabilities and diverse learning needs.

iTherapy [5]:

The Innervoice app, developed by iTherapy, helps to improve communication skills for people with autism and other cognitive learning disabilities.

InnerVoice uses 3D avatars powered by Microsoft AI and facial recognition technology to create an interactive platform that helps connect the dots between language and facial expressions.

Helpicto [6]:

Helpicto uses speech-to-text to generate sentences and leverages language understanding to categorize keyboards.

They also let people with language disorder to communicate. For example, as a personal they translate speech to image.

The Frist Center for Autism and Innovation [7]:

The Frist Center for Autism and Innovation at Vanderbilt University is developing virtual reality-based systems that provide people with autism job interview training through meaningful multimodal interactions.

Call to Action: If you are working on a related project to accessibility, apply for a grant here: http://aka.ms/grant

References:

[1]

“assistive-technology,” [Online]. Available: https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/assistive-technology.

[2]

“ai-for-accessibility,” [Online]. Available: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/ai/ai-for-accessibility.

[3]

B. Smith, “using-ai-to-empower-people-with-disabilities,” 7 May 2018. [Online]. Available: https://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2018/05/07/using-ai-to-empower-people-with-disabilities/.

[4]

“zyrobotics.com,” zyrobotics, [Online]. Available: http://zyrobotics.com/.

[5]

“innervoiceapp,” iTherapy, [Online]. Available: https://innervoiceapp.com/.

[6]

“home,” [Online]. Available: https://www.helpicto.com/en/home-2/.

[7]

“autismandinnovation,” [Online]. Available: https://my.vanderbilt.edu/autismandinnovation/.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are my own and the documents referenced are publicly accessible as listed in the reference section.

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Rajdeep Biswas

Director of Data & AI, Azure Cloud Services at Microsoft. Leading an organization focused on enabling Digitally Transformative solutions through Data & AI.