Microsoft at its annual Build conference for developers announced a $25 million initiative tasked with using artificial intelligence to better the lives of people with disabilities.
Dubbed AI for Accessibility, the five-year initiative will specifically target challenges faced by those with disabilities in three key areas: human connection, employment and modern life. Seed grants will be awarded to developers, universities, institutions and others with Microsoft vowing to help scale promising ideas and work with partners to incorporate accessibility features into their products.
Microsoft President Brad Smith said in an interview that there are about a billion people around the world with some kind of disability, either temporary or permanent. “It may be an accessibility need relating to vision or deafness or to something like autism or dyslexia,” he said. Such people already have huge potential but according to Smith, technology can help them accomplish even more.
This isn’t Microsoft’s first investment in the accessibility space. At last year’s Build conference, Microsoft announced a free smartphone app called “Seeing AI” that uses a device’s camera and computer vision to narrate what’s being seen in the real world. Microsoft Translator, meanwhile, offers real-time captioning of conversations.
The initiative is being led by Microsoft Chief Accessibility Officer Jenny Lay-Flurrie but as GeekWire highlights, it also hits home for CEO Satya Nadella as his son Zain has cerebral palsy.