Microsoft calls for greater collaboration to harness the power of AI to empower people with disabilities

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New Delhi: Microsoft India is hosting the second edition of its Accessibility Summit – Empowering for Inclusion – in the capital city on February 15 and 16, 2019 in collaboration with The National Association of the Deaf and National Centre for Promotion of Employment of Disabled People (NCPEPD). The summit is a platform that brings together multiple stakeholders to spark a dialogue on inclusive technology, evangelize accessibility standards & highlight inclusive technology solutions, as well as assess policy’s role in creating an accessible India. This includes people with disabilities, their support-system, developers of assistive technologies, policy makers, CSR professionals and service-providers.

Inaugurating the summit, Shrimati Shakuntala Doley Gamlin, Secretary, Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment said, “Including people of all abilities in the development process adds to a nation’s social and economic progress. Our vision is to ensure that we empower them with equal access and opportunity, and strong public-private partnerships will go a long way in ensuring this. The Microsoft Accessibility Summit provides an ideal platform to bring together policymakers and influencers to understand the policy environment and chart a direction for making life, experiences and opportunities accessible to all.”

There will be a special focus this year on the role that AI and cloud technologies can play in bringing people of all abilities into the mainstream. The 2-day conference will also combine a rich mix of master classes and access to Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility resources for the developer community with a showcase of inclusive technology, titled ‘Accessibility in Action’. The showcase will feature technology-based projects from non-profit organizations, assistive technologies developed by leading technology companies, Microsoft partners as well as Microsoft solutions. This includes Deque System’s Accessibility Testing Tool; Adobe Acrobat for Accessible Documents; a Video Relay Services for the hearing impaired by Dr. Philip Ray Harper and Microsoft Office 365 for Accessibility.

Dr. Sriram Rajamani, distinguished scientist and Managing Director, Microsoft Research India said, “At Microsoft, we believe there are no limits to what people can achieve when technology reflects the diversity of everyone who uses it. Cloud and AI solutions are opening up a world of possibilities, empowering people with disabilities with tools that support independence and productivity. The Summit is a significant step forward in advancing our efforts towards sensitizing stakeholders and partners on the business and social value of accessibility. As we continue to learn and grow, we hope to inspire other entities and organizations to build and accelerate their accessibility and inclusion programs.”

Speaking at the summit, Mr. A. S. Narayanan, President, National Association of Deaf (NAD) said, ”This Summit is a reflection of changing times. It is so heartening that the discourse on digital accessibility has expanded to include the entire spectrum of disabilities. Just yesterday the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has requested all private television channels to include sign language in all programs and that is such a welcome step in the right direction.”

According to Arman Ali, Executive Director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment of Disabled People (NCPEDP), “Just like disability is not homogenous, the accessibility solutions also cannot be homogenous. We must acknowledge the various categories of disabilities and their requirements and expectations from technologies. Platforms such as Microsoft’s Empowering for Inclusion summit spark dialogues around the need for inclusive technology and how solutions need to evolve and be inclusive of people with cross-disability. There is an urgent need of different stakeholders such as persons with disabilities, government, corporates, NGOs, to come together and work on these solutions.”

Microsoft and AI for Accessibility

Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility is a 5 year, $25million program that harnesses the power of AI to amplify human capability for the more than 1 billion people around the world with a disability. AI is now capable of seeing, hearing, and reasoning with increasing accuracy. Real time speech-to-text transcription, computer vision capabilities, and predictive text functionality are just a few examples of how AI is useful to people with disabilities today. AI for Accessibility aims to accelerate the development of accessible and intelligent AI solutions that build on recent advancements in Microsoft Cognitive Services to help developers create intelligent apps that see, hear, understand and better interpret people’s needs.