Microsoft recently announced a new grant called AI for Accessibility. This grant is geared to encourage developers to create products using Microsoft’s AI tools that will help people with disabilities.
Before jumping into the details of the grant, here’s a very brief introduction of AI and its role in accessibility.
What is AI and how is it helping accessibility?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) isn’t science fiction anymore — it’s a reality powering our everyday tasks and is all the rage right now. AI is the ability of a machine to imitate human intelligence.
AI is helping improve accessibility as well. Advancement in this field always has a certain “wow” factor, but the impact of AI on accessibility is profound. For instance, on the consumer front it is becoming increasingly common to see AI-powered appliances and devices around us.
AI is also helping make language more accessible. Advances in areas such as predictive text and voice- and visual-recognition assist people with disabilities, helping make the workplace and everyday life more diverse and inclusive. AI is improving eLearning accessibility in ways not considered a few years ago. For example, Grammarly, a free tool that checks written content for grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors, has gone a step further by using an AI algorithm in its spell check to help people with dyslexia communicate in a polished and professional way. Similarly, virtual assistants that respond to voice commands provide convenience for all but major improvements in independence for others, like some people with limited mobility.
It is heartening to see that rapid transformation in this field is creating extraordinary opportunities for people with disabilities.
About Microsoft’s Grant: AI for Accessibility
Last May, Microsoft announced AI for Accessibility — a $25 million five-year grant program that “harnesses the power of AI to amplify human capability for the more than one billion people around the world with a disability.”
The goal of the grant is to accelerate the development of smarter devices and software, while keeping them affordable so that people with disabilities are able to perform their daily tasks independently, develop professional skills and gain employment, and communicate and connect
Keeping this in mind, as stated on the AI for Accessibility Grant Application Form, the program “awards grants to projects that build on recent advancements in Microsoft Cognitive Services and Machine Learning to develop accessible and intelligent AI solutions” in any of their three focus areas:
- Daily Life
- Communication & Connection
This grant is open to developers, universities, inventors, and NGOs (non-governmental organizations). Once a grantee is chosen, Microsoft will collaborate with them to build on the prototype and scale it.
Zyrobotics became Microsoft's first AI for Accessibility grantee with their product ReadAble Storiez — a reading fluency program for students with diverse learning needs, which also helps fill in the gaps for students from low-income homes who may not have access to speech-language or occupational therapists.