AI and Digital Accessibility

Microsoft held an evening at the London on March 28th where the invitation to the event encouraged us to believe that:

“With the advancement in conversational intelligence, Deep learning, and Reinforcement learning, Artificial Intelligence has the potential to revolutionize the way we live and interact with our surroundings. AI for accessibility is taking leap[s] into the realm of opportunities and changing people[s’] lives for better.”

London – Microsoft Data & AILive stream on YouTube

It proved to be an interesting evening where Microsoft demonstrated how their Office products embed AI and accessibility within the process of developing documents. They offer automatic image labelling, accessibility checks, captioning and translations alongside supporting apps useful in many settings. Examples include Seeing AI (a smart phone app) providing information about the world around us via the camera with speech output and We Walk a smart cane that helps those who have visual impairments avoid obstacles. Virtual and augmented reality, haptics and working to support and support for those with hearing impairments were on show.

electronic wheelchair user

Companies showcased their applications throughout the evening and there was a fascinating presentation about wheelchair control via eye tracking from Professor Aldo Faisal (Imperial College)

Interestingly innovative AI ideas for those with cognitive impairments such as learning disabilities were not high on the agenda and yet many of the innovations in this area can also help those with dementia and stroke when communication can be affected.

Professor Clayton Lewis has written a White Paper for the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities on “Implications of Developments in Machine Learning for People with Cognitive Disabilities” He discusses a roadmap, with many of the strategies we have been collecting. Examples include making text easier to understand, the use of Natural Language Processing (NLP) for text simplification and clarification, visual assistants using image recognition to detect issues occurring in the home with chatbots to assist with problems and ideas around brain connected systems. As with many authors, Professor Lewis reflects on issues around ethics, security and privacy, the lack of disability specific data and algorithms and includes these thoughts under policy projects. But he also stresses that:

…we may expect continued progress in deep learning, as well, perhaps, as significant new ideas. Besides awaiting (and encouraging) these developments, our community should consider how more limited capabilities may be useful in the applications important to us.

At the end of April 2019 there was a short holiday period and as a wonderfully instructive and interesting read that explains all things AI to the non-mathematician, Associate Professor Hannah Fry’s ‘Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms‘ proved to be a good option! Associate Professor Fry has been interviewed about the book by Demetri Kofinas (YouTube) and this video introduces some of the ideas she explains.