Powered by AI
A friend of my family lost his eye sight as an adult. To his credit and my deep admiration, he has continued to live a fairly normal day-to-day life. A few years ago I had sent him a card, and when he thanked me in person I found myself wondering how he had managed to read the message. Imagine if there was an app that could read a hand-written note aloud or help him navigate a busy street safely on his own. There wasn’t then, but today there is.
According to the World Bank, one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability. This rate is even higher in developing nations. In Africa, an estimated 60-80 million people live with disabilities. The vast majority of people living with disabilities in Africa (and around the world) are excluded from schooling, employment opportunities, and access to other basic services.
Most of us don’t realise it, but AI has been quietly transforming the lives of people living with disabilities around the world. I say ‘quietly’ because many of the AI applications that we enjoy as conveniences, from predictive text to smart thermostats, are necessities for people living with disabilities.
AI is helping bring people with different needs into the folds of mainstream society not just in their personal lives, but also in the work place. There are four major ways that AI is currently powering disability inclusion.
Increased mobility: Self-driving cars; wearables such as Toyota’s Project BLAID or Horus that will help visually-impaired people navigate the environment around them; and AI-powered hearing aids; Microsoft Seeing AI app narrates the world around you.
Improved communication: Applications that translate audio speech to text and even videos of sign language into text, and vice versa.
Easier access: Biometric logins can improve access to technology for people with physical disabilities or those with dyslexia who might struggle to remember passwords.
More independence: Smart homes allow people to control their physical home with voice commands; Virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri; AI enables devices to learn normal behaviour patterns to detect when a potential problem may have occurred and alert loved ones.
This list was inspired by this infographic by Cognilytica.
While these AI advances are amazing, let’s not forget the African context. In Africa alone, there are at least 25 different sign languages. The streets of Nairobi look very different from the streets of San Francisco, where much AI research is done. How do we ensure that these AI technologies also translate well for people of different cultures, languages, races, and contexts around the world? This is a challenge we’re excited to explore. Please contact us if this is also important to you!