Microsoft has granted seven startups and organisations funding for their work on projects that use AI to improve the lives of people with disabilities. One UK group joins the AI for Accessibility project, with Birmingham City University (BCU) researchers joining the intake.
Mary Bellard, Microsoft senior accessibility architect commented: “What stands out the most about this round of grantees is how so many of them are taking standard AI capabilities, like a chatbot or data collection, and truly revolutionizing the value of technology in typical scenarios for a person with a disability like finding a job, being able to use a computer mouse or anticipating a seizure.”
Among those awarded: Birmingham City University researchers, who are creating a platform on which people with physical impairments can use voice commands and gaze or eye movements to undertake web development and computer programming tasks.
One of the key goals of the project is to replace the functionality of a mouse and keyboard with eye-tracking software that allows the user to select a particular line of code by just looking at it. Senior lecture in human-computer interaction at Birmingham City University Dr Chris Creed is the project lead.
He commented in a blog post that: “People who are unable to use a mouse or keyboard can often find themselves excluded from certain technical professions, and we are exploring ways to remove some of those barriers.”
“This is a fantastic opportunity to make certain professions much more inclusive.”
Boston-based Pison Technology is developing a device that can control digital platforms and devices with very faint gestures. The technology is aimed at people with neuromuscular disabilities such as ALS and MS. The device is fitted to the users wrist.
CEO of Pisoon Technology Dexter Ang commented in a release: “Our proprietary technology can sense nerve signals on the surface of the skin. Our machine-learning algorithms can classify those voltage signals into discernable actions, such as simulating a mouse click to help interact with a computer.”
A Second Boston-based company was also awarded funding, Massachusetts Eye and Ear are developing an application that will provide visually impaired people with an enhanced location and navigation service.
Working on a similar application researchers at the University of California Berkley are creating an application that will provided users with audio descriptions and captions of their surroundings.
Microsoft AI for Accessibility
Researchers at the University of Sydney are developing a wearable sensory warning system that uses deep learning and data analytics to read an individuals EEG (electroencephalogram) signals in order to warn them about a potential epileptic fit.
Carol Ireland, CEO of Epilepsy Action Australia commented that: “To have a non-surgical device available for those living with epilepsy will make a significant difference to many, including family members, friends, and of course those impacted by epilepsy
“Such a device would take away the fear element of when and if a seizure may occur, ensuring that the person living with epilepsy can get into a safe place quickly.”
New York-based Our Ability has developed an AI-powered chatbot that will help job seekers with disabilities prepare for upcoming interviews. The chatbot is aimed at helping people with cognitive disabilities find work or learn new skills.
Our Ability founder John Robinson commented that: “Our Ability has 20,000 unique users that visit its website every year, but not all of them go through the manual process of filling out the forms on the site; the chatbot will help with that”,
The Chatbot: “Will provide a much more rapid way of getting more people to connect with one another. By creating a place where we assess real-life skills, train real-life skills and match them with employment – that’s every disability job coach’s goal in the last 50 years.”
Other award winners are Israel start-up Viceitt which is designing a speech recognition application to better understand non-standard speech patterns so individuals with speech disabilities can access communication platforms.
Microsoft Mary Bellard concludes that: “The research being done by all of the AI for Accessibility grantees “is an important step in scaling accessible technology across the globe.”
“People are looking for products or services to make things easier and AI might be able to help.”