Jeremy Herold

Microsoft’s $25 million AI initiative aiming to improve accessibility

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Those with disabilities may soon have a new host of tools available to help improve their everyday lives thanks to the AI for Accessibility initiative.

Exciting news was announced this year at Microsoft’s Build Conference, their annual conference for software developers. Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella announced that Microsoft is launching a $25 million initiative to use artificial intelligence to build better technology for people with disabilities.

The new five-year “AI for Accessibility” initiative will include seed grants for startups, nonprofit organizations and academic researchers, as well as investments and expertise from Microsoft researchers.

Microsoft President Brad Smith stated that the company hopes to empower people by accelerating the development of AI tools that provide those with disabilities with more opportunities for independence and employment.

In an interview, Smith said, “It may be an accessibility need related to vision or deafness or to something like autism or dyslexia. There are about a billion people on the planet who have some kind of disability, either permanent or temporary.” Smith went on to say that those with disabilities already have huge potential, but that technology can help them accomplish even more.

Smith also stated that Microsoft’s accessibility fund builds on the model of the company’s AI for Earth initiative, which launched last year. That initiative was launched in order to jumpstart projects combating climate change and other environmental problems.

Microsoft isn’t new to the AI business, having already experimented with its own accessibility tools such as “Seeing AI.” With their Seeing AI app they use computer vision and narration to help people navigate if they’re blind or have low vision.

There is also another accessibility app that Microsoft released that helps those that are deaf or hard of hearing by providing captioning of conversations.

Providing AI tools that allow people with disabilities to interact with the world around them on their own terms is definitely a step in the right direction. Hopefully, this AI for Accessibility initiative jumpstarts the greater advancements needed to allow for that to happen.

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