Microsoft Announces $25 Million AI for Accessibility Initiative

May 2018 – At this year’s Build, Microsoft’s annual conference for software developers, CEO Satya Nadella announced a new $25 million five-year “AI for Accessibility” initiative in the United States. The program aims to “put AI tools in the hands of developers to accelerate the development of accessible and intelligent AI solutions to benefit the 1 billion-plus people with disabilities around the world.” In the past, Build has focused on innovative ventures in cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), internet-connected devices and virtual reality (VR) from the company and its partnerships. Microsoft President Brad Smith said this new initiative is another step in the company’s goal to empower people with disabilities by developing AI tools to increase accessibility, independence and employment opportunities. 
Last year, we reported on the company’s Seeing AI, a powerful smartphone app that uses the device’s camera and algorithms to assist people with vision impairments (Link to original story: Speaking to how the company hopes tools such as Seeing AI and AI for Accessibility will spur innovation not only for people with disabilities but for all, Mr. Smith said, “Around the world, only one in 10 people with disabilities has access to assistive technologies and products. By making AI solutions more widely available, we believe technology can have a broad impact on this important community. […] We have started to see the impact AI can have in accelerating accessible technology. Microsoft Translator is today empowering people who are deaf or hard of hearing with real-time captioning of conversations. Helpicto, an application that turns voice commands into images, is enabling children in France with autism to better understand situations and communicate with others. And, Seeing AI and auto alt-text features are helping narrate the world for people who are blind or low vision.” Eric Bridges, CEO of the American Council of the Blind shared how his three year old son uses Seeing AI to check his homework, and how the app helped the father and son connect and make learning a more enjoyable process. 
In conclusion, Mr. Smith said, “Disabilities can be permanent, temporary or situational.  By innovating for people with disabilities, we are innovating for us all. 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.” We look forward to Microsoft’s continued work in increasing accessibility and technological solutions for people with disabilities, and how these technologies can be used to empower all users. [Source: Brad Smith, Microsoft Blog]


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