Microsoft Commits $25 Million to ‘AI for Accessibility’

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Microsoft has announced a $25 million commitment to empower people with disabilities with new technologies and products.

Announced at the company’s annual developer conference in Seattle, the five-year AI for Accessibility initiative will put artificial intelligence (AI) tools in the hands of developers working to accelerate the development of solutions that benefit the more than a billion people with disabilities globally. The initiative will build on the mission of Microsoft’s Accessibility team, led by chief accessibility officer Jenny Lay-Flurrie, with the goal of providing new tools and support for developers working to advance AI solutions for people with vision, hearing, cognitive, learning, and mobility disabilities as well as mental health conditions.

"Around the world, only one in ten people with disabilities has access to assistive technologies and products," wrote Microsoft president Brad Smith in a blog post. "By making AI solutions more widely available, we believe technology can have a broad impact on this important community."

To that end, the initiative will award seed grants of technology to developers, universities, NGOs, and inventors taking an AI-first approach to the creation of solutions that assist people with disabilities in their work and daily lives; make larger investments in providing access to Microsoft technology and AI experts who can help bring promising projects to scale; and work with partners to incorporate AI innovations into platform-level services that empower others to maximize the accessibility of their offerings.

"Disabilities can be permanent, temporary, or situational. By innovating for people with disabilities, we are innovating for us all," Smith added. "By ensuring that technology fulfills its promise to address the broadest societal needs, we can empower everyone — not just individuals with disabilities — to achieve more.

Brad Smith. “Using AI to Empower People With Disabilities.” Microsoft Blog Post 05/07/2018.
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