Artificial Intelligence Assisting the Disabled

Among seven billion of the global population over 1 Billion people are estimated to be living with a disability of one kind or another. Artificial Intelligence is a field of computer science is the engineering and science of creating machines with the ability to take actions and make decisions very close to the human mind. In an effort to fight for inclusivity, several organizations and dedicated scientists have developed and researched AI tools that are capable of helping people perform their day-to-day tasks. These technologies, built with the objective of improving a person’s functional capabilities, are termed Assistive Technologies.
With AI comes the enormous potential to be able to automate almost every task that needs human intelligence, from visual perception to decision-making, voice recognition, speech recognition, predictive text functionality, and what not and this is exactly how AI can turn the game around and make it much easier to build interactive technologies that can help support independence and accessibility.

AI Tech for Individuals With An Impaired Vision

Assistive technologies like braille displays, screen readers, etc. have been available for some time, AI has advanced to greater levels since then. Text-to-speech (TTS) technology has grown considerably more versatile allowing ad-hoc use of cellphones. The very similar speech-to-text technology allows relaxed and fuss-free communication without needing any hardware for support.
A few examples of the technologies:
Google lens,
often described as “the search engine of the real world”, is able to recognize what object the phone is pointing at to interact with text from pictures, etc., the product is a little magician on its own.
Google Assistant, a simple “Hello Google” can help achieve several tasks with so much convenience and one wouldn’t even have to lift a finger.
Seeing AI, by Microsoft, is an app that uses the camera of one’s device for identifying objects and people and further audibly gives the description of the same for people with visual impairments.
MyEye 2.0, is a gadget that attaches to just about any pair of eyeglasses and uses image recognition technology to deliver audible feedback about the viewer’s surroundings. Its powers include interpreting signs and documents as well as recognizing faces, and all without needing an internet connection.

AI Solutions For Prosthetics

Although many breakthroughs have been made that aid individuals with disabilities indirectly, parts of the research are specifically directed at attenuating the impairment by collaborating closely with research in medical and health care. Mechanically pliable limbs, as opposed to initial prostheses that seem to be fully immobile, are now more accessible, and current breakthroughs in the design of the algorithms paired with chips that are compact and increasingly powerful lead to considerable gains in this domain. Because of better signal processing algorithms, a newer prosthesis responds significantly faster to nervous system stimuli and responds appropriately according to the environment.
Back in 2014, Alex, a 6-year-old kid, whose family could not possibly afford a standard prosthetic approached a technical collective. A graduate-level student pursuing his degree at the University of Central Florida, who was there while the discussion was going on for the same, came up with the revolutionary notion of building a mechanical arm for the kid using a 3-D printer. The working prototype of the artificial limb was ready within a few weeks, and the final product was ready soon after with a total cost of $350. That was the very first time Alex hugged his mother and for a very long time, didn’t let go. The grad student further went and posted the design he built online, and anyone having a 3-D printer can load the plans free of cost.
For Example, the “Avocado”, a wrist connector that is comfortable for use, easy to fit while also being durable and economical even for, say, an impaired farmer.

AI Solutions For Individuals with Impaired Hearing

Speech-to-text and Text-to-speech can be used to help individuals who have impaired hearing or cannot speak. Text-to-speech can provide a voice to individuals who have the motor abilities for typing. Language translation and captioning, voice assistants, enhanced language prediction, closed caption personalization, advanced speech-reading, etc are some of the other techniques that are being used to help overcome the challenge of hearing and speech.
A few examples of the technologies:
Amazon Echo and Siri by Apple, two very popular voice assistants to support the deaf.
FOX By Cochlear, in order to achieve maximum patient outcomes, employs speech perception as well as other patient outcome assessments as input to its fitting optimization algorithm.
DeepMind by Google, for its hearing-impaired users, has developed an AI system to generate closed captions.

AI Tech on Inclusivity

People with disabilities span all ages, ethnicities, gender identities, races, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic statuses, and more than 50% of these individuals are stricken by unemployment. The question is: Why would organizations refrain from hiring more differently-abled people? Why are the ones that need employment the most are being deprived of the opportunities that a regular person won’t be? One major factor is that many people are unaware of the hurdles to inclusion that may prevail in their companies. The next big question: What can AI do about this? Well, Artificial Intelligence has an enormous impact on the daily lives of individuals with disabilities, for instance, these are some of the solutions offered by AI to cut help individuals cut through the barriers of exclusivity and inaccessibility :
Image and facial recognition technologies for visual impairments.
Speech-reading and real-time captioning technologies for hearing impairments.
Text summarization technologies for mental impairment, etc.
These are some of the foundational techniques, developed via extensive research in artificial intelligence, that have the potential to help individuals with disabilities to push through and make them feel more included, give them the opportunity to lead a life with lesser obstacles, and open the doors to many new opportunities for them.

An Accidental Ambassador Of Assistive Technologies

Stephen Hawking, the incredible explainer of the universe, an extraordinary physicist, a marvelous author, and one of the greatest role models to ever live fought with his disability for over half a century. Even in a wheelchair, nothing could stop Professor Hawkings from making some of the greatest discoveries ever made, delivering some of the greatest lectures ever given, writing Oscar and Golden Globes winning books, and being so strong and optimistic.
This is why we need to do our best to make inclusion a priority. Thankfully, he lived during a period when academics were rapidly researching and building electronic technologies to assist individuals with physical impairments achieve greater independence. We don't know who the next Stephen Hawkings might be but before we find that out we need to give every individual the equal opportunity to come forward and take their chances. As Professor Hawkings once said “With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”

So, keep talking. Thank you for reading!

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Bhavya Batra

Bhavya Batra

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