Microsoft Says Its AI Tools Are Helping a Billion People with Disabilities


As over a billion people which is roughly 15 per cent of the world’s population struggle with some form of disability, Microsoft has started unlocking the potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve assistive technologies in different ways, the company’s India President Anant Maheshwari said this on Monday.

Maheshwari, who had a life-altering learning experience in 2008 when he was afflicted with a severe case of labyrinthitis and vertigo, said nearly 200 people experience significant difficulties in functioning globally.

“Leaving behind a billion people is contrary to our mission to empower every person on the planet to achieve more. Inclusion is at the heart of everything we create at Microsoft,” Maheshwari said in a blog post on the occasion of UN International Day for Persons with Disabilities.

“Take the Seeing AI app for example, which transform the visual world into a vocal experience,” he added.

Influencing AI capabilities in computer vision for the blind and also the low vision community, the Microsoft app uses ‘Optical character recognition’ to scan barcodes, emotions, read a text and even recognise faces and objects to describe the world.

Microsoft Translator is another good example where people who are deaf and hard of hearing derive immense value from the transcriptions and the real-time captioning as well.

“Accessibility check in Office also helps one to ensure that all content is accessible to all, with the use of alternative text for videos or images. So whether at work, or home, the Windows 10 cloud-based platform provides built-in assistive technology that is on the move,” said Maheshwari.

For people who are having a problem hearing or need help focusing, Windows enables to quite visual distractions, highlight content in Edge and customise visual alerts.

With the Narrator, Speech Recognition and Skype Translator, people with vision loss of limited mobility can surf the web quickly, collaborate and also communicate in real time.

Microsoft ‘AI for Accessibility’ is a new, $25 million, the five-year program from Microsoft for developers globally, including in India.

The program will put AI tools in the hands of developers to speed up the development of intelligent AI and accessible solutions for people with disabilities.

Microsoft’s ever Chief Accessibility Officer, Jenny Lay-Flurrie whose deafness set in at a very little age, but he has a big goal ahead to utilise AI tools for inclusion and accessibility.

“Accessibility is all about making anything accessible to everyone. So we have various programs for the disabled, like ‘Seeing AI’ and ‘auto alt-text features’ that are helping to narrate the world for people who can’t see or have low vision,” Jenny recently told a group of journalists at the company’s Redmond headquarters.


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