Aiming to tackle some inclusion challenges …

accessibility icons in a grid

We found that Microsoft Azure AI for Accessibility grants were not available in August so hope our previous bid will be moved into the November group. We have applied for a grant under the title of “AI for AAC Symbol Equality, Diversity and Inclusion”. The aim is to develop an online tool to generate automatically personalised pictographic symbol sets for Augmentative and Alternative Communication users and improve image recognition for symbols using three different AI services.

This will require the development of Machine Learning algorithms using Generative adversarial neural networks to produce new and adapted symbols and we would like to garner support for the gathering of open licenced AAC symbol data as well as make use of Microsoft’s systems.

FUTUREGYM: A gymnasium with interactive floor projection for children with special needs

Another grant bid has gone into the Economic and Social Sciences Research Council (ESRC)as part of a UKRI-JST Call on Artificial Intelligence and Society. This bid is about “Assistive AI for Augmentative and Alternative Communication in Shared Activities” workng with the University of Tsukuba and their FutureGym interactive environment The children who took part in the activities tended to have complex communication needs and social behaviour issues. The aim is to introduce symbols and photographs to support the gestures and body movements generally used to express enjoyment or interactions with others as part of the journey towards aided communication where children have limited use of speech or are unable to verbalise their feelings.

During September we also completed a background paper on AI and ICT Accessibility for the International Telecommunication Union in Geneva – this was followed up by a video and an invitation to run a session on the subject at the Regional Forum for Europe on Accessible Europe: ICTs 4 ALL that will take place in St George’s Bay, St. Julian’s, Malta, from 4 to 6 December 2019.

AI and ICT Accessibility

With thanks to Ablenet – Using Assistive Technology

Whilst exploring the ideas around digital accessibility and web accessibility we must not forget the wide range of technologies that come under the heading of Information Communication Technologies (ICT) and this includes Assistive Technologies (AT).

Many organisations think of AT as being “any information and communication technology product, device, equipment and related service used to maintain, increase, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with specific needs or disabilities.” This definition comes from an International Telecommunication Union Model ICT Accessibility Report (2014) . Functional capabilities also include executive functioning so we must not forget how planning, organisation and memory can be supported, reduction in stress and anxiety to improve mental health etc. Now by collecting data about all the issues that can arise we can widen the scope of asssitive technologies to enable them to further enhance inclusion. Think of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices (used by those who may not be able to speak clearly or are nonverbal) offering easy to reach symbol choices based on the location of a user and the type of tasks they are undertaking. An early example of this type of technology is the Livox app.


Working with all forms of media have resulted in huge strides in image recognition supporting text descriptions and Mike was presenting at the Media and Learning Conference in Leuven on June 5-6 and presented innovations around the accessibility of video for learning.

He described how access can be enhanced by using current technologies and discussed the potential for AI to improve the availability of accessible media.

In the last few years ITU has been behind many initiatives involving Artificial Intelligence and ICT Accessibility with summits such as the AI for Good Global Summit and working on standards related to the ethical issues around AI and Inclusion.

Being aware of the impact AI and ICT was having on us all, members of the team became involved with a document produced by the European Disability Forum called ‘Plug and Pray‘. This report looked into the affect that some of the technologies being developed in the AI arena could have on individuals with disabilities.

 EDF logoPlug and Pray – A disability perspective on artificial intelligence, automated decision-making and emerging technologies (Accessible PDF)

“Some conclusions of the report include:

  • Teams working on new technologies are not diverse enough. Industry needs to assure that their teams reflect diversity of general population; 
  • Accessibility and principles of Universal Design should be part of the curricula when teaching design, computer sciences, user experience and other related subjects.
  • Organisations of persons with disabilities and organisations working on digital rights need to work closer together. “