AI for Accessibility

“Artificial Intelligence (AI) is often seen as bad, with franchises like Warhammer 40k even going so far as to label it as Abominable Intelligence due to the logical conclusion that it will eventually rise up to overthrow it’s ‘human overlords’. However, AI also has the potential to inspire innovation, unlock productivity and deliver transformative experiences for everyone.

Particularly for those who may have disabilities or visual impairments, AI is now capable of hearing, seeing and reasoning with increasing accuracy and therefore can be used to support people with disabilities more than ever before. Some great examples of this are speech to text transcription, computer vision capabilities and predictive text functionality.

This is hugely important and in a slightly different blog to normal I’d like to focus on one of the ways Microsoft are looking to support this via their AI for Accessibility programme (https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/ai/ai-for-accessibility) and help to raise awareness. I’d also like to say a bit thank you to Cheryl Lapham, Phoenix’s Microsoft Business Manager for Education for helping put the content together.

What is AI for Accessibility

The AI for Accessibility programme is designed 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, speak, understand and better interpret people’s needs.

It focuses on helping support people with disabilities using AI to overcome the three main challenges that they face:

  • Employment – the unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities is more than double that of people without. Part of the programme is designed to use AI to help people with disabilities develop more advanced skills in the workplace while creating a culture focused on inclusive hiring.
  • Daily life – challenging for everyone particularly those with disabilities, part of the focus is on building modern solutions to make software and devices smarter and more contextually relevant for those with disabilities.
    Communication and connection – being able to communicate easily with other individuals is something that we often take for granted and enables us to gain access to information and opportunities. For those with more difficulty doing so it can often exclude them from some areas of employment and society. As such a focus of the program is to use technology to create new opportunities regardless of how a person listens, speaks or writes.

What Type of Grants are on Offer

Currently AI for Accessibility provides the following types of one-year grants:

  • Azure compute credits: This is the fast track to get you up and running on Azure AI Service with grants of Azure compute credits worth $10,000, $15,000, or $20,000 (depending on your project scope and needs).
  • Azure compute credits Plus: In addition to Azure compute credits, these grants cover costs related to collecting or labelling data, developing models, or other engineering-related work. Applications are evaluated on their scientific merit, innovative use of AI technology and potential for scalability.

Microsoft’s community of AI for Accessibility grantees receive Azure developer support, resources and opportunities to collaborate and showcase their work.
Grantees get access to Microsoft Azure cloud computing resources and a variety of data science and machine learning tools, including but not limited to the powerful assets in the Microsoft Cognitive services.

Details of the Grant Program

This is an ongoing program, with proposals evaluated a few times a year. Our evaluation will be for all proposals submitted by 11:59 Pacific Time, on 13 March 2020, 30 July 2020, and 15 December 2020. Apply now via the online application form. The most important part of each application is a project proposal that describes the accessibility challenge addressed, the technical solution proposed, and its potential impact on people with disabilities.

How are applications evaluated?

AI for Accessibility grant applications are reviewed by Microsoft employees who are directly involved in the AI for Accessibility grant selection process for the sole purpose of proposal review and to determine the grant level to be provided. Projects should be developed with or by people with disabilities. Applications are evaluated on the following criteria:

  1. Relevance: AI and/or machine learning are core to the project success
  2. Impact: Clearly elevates either employment, daily life, or communication & connection for someone with a disability
  3. Data: Open to sharing privacy compliant data for future innovation
  4. Feasible: Is deliverable in a one-year time frame—this could be phase 1 of the project but there should be tangible deliverables completed each quarter that are wrapped up in 12 months
  5. Capable: Your team should have the knowledge and skill to deliver the idea OR you partner with someone who can fill in the gaps
  6. Sustainable: The project has room to grow beyond the first year of funding
  7. Showcase-able: We want to talk about whatever you deliver

Estimating the amount of Azure resources required by your project

To estimate the monetary value of Azure computing resources you need, use the Azure calculator. For example, if you’re planning on 100,000 Cognitive Services Computer Vision transactions, you’re looking at $100 per month x 12 months which is $1,200 in Azure credits for the one-year grant period.

If you’d like to learn more about AI for accessibility or more about AI in general please feel free to reach out to hello@phoenixs.co.uk or call 01904 562200.”

A blog by Ben Gannon – Data and AI Specialist, Phoenix Software