Microsoft has selected seven lucky start-ups to receive grants from its AI for Accessibility program. Growing businesses aim to empower people with disabilities to participate in the technology and economics of the Internet, from improving job search to crisis forecasting.
Each of the seven companies receives professional-level Azure AI resources and support, as well as funds to cover data collection and processing costs, as well as access to Microsoft experts in AI, project management, and accessibility. .
Companies apply online and a team of accessibility and market experts from Microsoft assesses them based on their potential impact, data strategies, feasibility, and so on. The five-year, $ 25 million program began in 2018 and the evaluation is an evolutionary process of awarding grants several times a year. This happens to be on World Accessibility Awareness Day. So be aware!
Our company, founded by John Robinson, was born among the beneficiaries of this series. She was born doing nothing and her whole life was faced with serious difficulties in finding and keeping a job. The unemployment rate of persons with disabilities is double that of non-disabled people and some disabilities almost completely prevent full-time employment.
Still, there are still opportunities for these people, who are just as likely to have a head for project management or a talent for coding as anyone – but they can be hard to come by. Robinson works on a website that links companies with jobs suitable for disabled candidates and potential candidates.
"Our goal is to empower employers to understand and benefit from the growing workforce of people with disabilities, reduce staff turnover rates, and boost morale and productivity because In favor of an inclusive work culture begins within the company, "writes Robinson in an email to TechCrunch. "Employers had previously been at a disadvantage in speeding up this because many job search tools are not designed for people with disabilities."
The plan that attracted Microsoft is Robinson's idea of creating a chatbot to help collect critical data about disabled applicants. And before saying "chatbot? What year is it? Remember, if chatbots can be overwhelmed for those who can easily navigate forms and websites, this is not the case for people who can not. An online chat interface is simple and accessible, requiring little information other than basic text input.
Pison is another beneficiary whose technology would be useful here. People with physical disabilities often can not use a mouse or touchpad like any other. The founder, Dexter Ang, saw this happen in person as the physical abilities of his deceased mother deteriorated under the effects of ALS.
His solution is to use an electromyographic cuff (you may know Myo) to detect the limited movements of a person suffering from this type of affliction and convert them into mouse movements. The company was established a few years ago and is currently undergoing development and testing work among ALS patients, who have shown that they can use the technology successfully in just a few minutes.
Voiceitt is a speech recognition engine that targets people with non-standard voices. Disabilities and events such as stroke can make a person's voice difficult to understand for friends and family, not to mention the relatively difficult processes of speech recognition.
Google has recently tackled the same problem with the Euphonia project, which, along with the company's other accessibility efforts, has enjoyed impressive stage time at I / O last week.
Here are the rest of the recipients (the descriptions come from Microsoft):
- Researchers at the University of Sydney (Australia) are developing a portable sensory alert system to help the 75 million people with epilepsy better predict and manage seizures to live more independently.
- Researchers at the University of Birmingham City (UK) are developing a system that allows people with reduced mobility to control digital platforms with voice commands and eye movement.
- Researchers at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear (Boston, MA) are working on a mobile vision assistance application that provides improved location and navigation services for people who are blind or have low vision.
- Researchers at the University of California at Berkley (Berkley, California) are creating a mobile application for people who are blind or have low vision that provides captions and audio descriptions of their environment.
The top image, by the way, comes from InnerVoice's iTherapy, an app that provides descriptions of images taken by kids who have trouble communicating. This is an excellent example of cutting-edge niche technology that helps a small population rather than a small population.
Microsoft has been a good keeper of accessibility for years and seems to be leaning towards it, as it should be. President Brad Smith had a lot to say about this in a blog post last year, and the commitment seems to be moving forward for this one.