AI for the less-abled

By: Bank of Baroda
Fri Dec 4, 2020
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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is increasingly being used in processes that directly impacts people’s lives. Technology has been opening doors for individuals with disabilities, from motorized scooters to hearing aids. Disabilities, whether related to vision, hearing, mental health, learning, cognition, or mobility, can be permanent, temporary, or even situational. Designing new products with different levels of abilities in mind has gone a long way in ensuring that technology works for everyone.

Voiceitt is an app for people with speech impediments, including both those who need it temporarily after strokes and brain injuries, and those with more long-term conditions like cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s and Down’s syndrome. Using machine learning, Voiceitt picks up speakers’ unique speech patterns, recognizes any mispronunciations and normalizes their speech before creating an output of audio or text.

Products that were designed for a general audience are also being used to increase accessibility. Smart assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri have become some of the biggest helpers for blind users, allowing them to get online more easily. Users are discovering new ways to open up voice-based assistants to the deaf, too.

Paulo Pinheiro, a 34-year-old robotics PhD. from Brazil launched a startup Hoobox Robotics. Its first product, called the Wheelie 7, lets wheelchair users initiate moves like going forward, turning and stopping by using nine distinct facial expressions. It deploys cutting edge computer vision technology.

Over 100,000 deaf and hard of hearing individuals have used Ava, an app that allows them to take part in group conversations in either English or French (with more limited use for Spanish, Italian, German, and Russian). Everyone engaged in a conversation opens Ava on their phones, then speaks normally as the app listens in. Ava converts spoken words into text in nearly real time, rendering each speaker’s words into a different color for those needing to read along to follow the chat.

For the hearing-disabled, technology can help make things better. For example, sign language chatbots can be used to give people with hearing disabilities access to key services.This is the approach Egypt’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology(MCIT) took recently to deliver emergency services and COVID-19-related information to people who are hearing-impaired. MCIT partnered with the United Nations Development Programme and communications services provider Avaya to create a virtual chatbot accessible via website or  a mobile app. The chatbot is powered by AI that interprets sign-language and interacts with users.

In the coming years, AI will begin to supercharge efforts for increased accessibility for the less abled with new abilities and expanded access. With one billion-plus people with disabilities around the world, there is plenty of work to be done—and a large market to tap into.

Credits : Akhil Handa

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