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Microsoft unveils $25 million ‘AI for Accessibility’ project

A heavily funded program announced by Microsoft will aim to create and nurture advanced artificial intelligence (AI) products and services that can assist people with disabilities around the world.

The five-year program, named AI for Accessibility, was launched at the Microsoft Build conference in Seattle and will be funded by $25 million from Microsoft. The project will provide developers with AI tools and will focus on three key areas: employment, modern life and human connection.

An introductory page for the project on the Microsoft websites states that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in the United States is twice as high, according to the US Office of Disability Employment Policy. The introduction then goes on to outline the benefits of AI in employment: “AI can help people develop professional skills and influence workplace culture and inclusive hiring.”

In a blog post announcing AI for Accessibility, Microsoft President Brad Smith writes that the project will “accelerate the development of accessible and intelligent AI solutions to benefit the one billion-plus people with disabilities around the world.”

The program will do this in three ways, initially by providing seed funding to developers, universities, non-governmental organisations and inventors taking “an AI-first approach” to building products and services to help people with disabilities.

The next stage will involve nurturing the most promising projects through further investment and assistance from Microsoft’s AI team. The final stage, writes Smith, will involve Microsoft working with its partners “to incorporate AI innovations into platform-level services to empower others”.

AI for Accessibility follows Microsoft’s AI for Earth project, which works to tackle environmental issues through artificial intelligence.

Read more about the program at Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility project page.


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