Microsoft announces 11 new AI for Accessibility grantees

Last year, Microsoft took the wraps off its AI for Accessibility initiative, a $25 million, five-year program that focuses on leveraging the power of AI to help people with disabilities. Atlanta-based Zyrobotics became the first grantee for the program, gaining Microsoft's help in developing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) games and learning tools geared towards education of young children.

And now, over a year later, Microsoft has announced 11 new AI for Accessibility grants, bringing the total number of grantees currently benefiting from AI for Accessibility up to 32. This news also aligns with the celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which carries on through the month of October.

Mary Bellard, Senior Architect Lead for Accessibility at Microsoft, remarked on the occasion:

"The amount of potential that there is for software or hardware to better meet the needs of people with disabilities, and to raise the bar of what customers can come to expect of the role technology could play in their lives, is just an amazing opportunity."

She also highlighted the opportunity that had been provided to her team in helping make technology more useful for people with disabilities through the proper utilization of AI for Accessibility. Projects such as the Braille AI Tutor app by new grantee ObjectiveEd, the MapinHood navigation app by iMerciv for blind or low-vision people, and others have been recognized as major initiatives in this field.

Arjun Mali, left, and Bin Liu of iMerciv both have had family members who experienced vision loss. (Image via iMerciv)

The list of new grantees, along with a slight description of what they are working on to advance the AI for Accessibility cause, can be read below:

  • AbiliTrek: A platform for the disability community to rate and review the accessibility of any establishment, with the ability to tailor search results to the specific needs of any individual.
  • Azur Tech Concept – SmartEar: A service that actively listens for environmental sounds (i.e. doorbell, fire alarm, phone call) and retransmits them in colored flashes on small portable boxes or a smart phone to support the deaf community.
  • Balance for Autism – Financial Accessibility: An interactive program which provides information and activities designed to better match people with programs and services
  • City University of London – The ORBIT: Developing a data set to train AI systems for personalizing object recognition, which is becoming increasingly important for tools used by the blind community.
  • Communote – BeatCaps: A new form of transcription that uses beat tracking to generate subtitles that visualize the rhythm of music. These visualizations allow the hard of hearing to experience music.
  • Filmgsindl GmbH – EVE: A system that recognizes speech and generates automatic live subtitles for people with a hearing disability.
  • Humanistic Co-Design: A cooperative of individuals, organizations and institutions working together to increase awareness about how designers, makers, and engineers can apply their skills in collaboration with people who have disabilities.
  • iMerciv –  MapinHood: A Toronto-based startup developing a navigation app for pedestrians who are blind or have low vision and want to choose the routes they take if they’re walking to work, or to any other destination. 
  • inABLE and I-Stem – I-Assistant: A serves that uses text-to-speech, speech recognition, and AI to give students a more interactive and conversational alternative to in-person testing in the classroom.
  • ObjectiveEd – Braille AI Tutor:  A Boston-based app developer leveraging Microsoft AI-based speech recognition to create an interactive Braille literacy education tool to facilitate more independent learning opportunities for students who are blind.  
  • Open University – ADMINS: A chatbot that provides administrative support for people with disabilities who have difficulty filling out online academic forms.

You can read in more detail about the thinking process behind the development of the aforementioned solutions, as well as how these grantees believe they are helping make a change, at the original blog post. More general information regarding AI for Accessibility can be obtained here, and a grant can be applied for here. Notably, the final deadline for submission of applications this year is set at November 13.

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