At its Build 2018 developer conference in May, Microsoft announced AI for Accessibility - a $25 million program that is aimed toward providing AI tools to developers in order to accelerate the creation of accessible solutions to benefit people with disabilities. The initiative is to be spanned over a period of five years.
Now, Atlanta-based Zyrobotics has been revealed by Microsoft as the first grantee of AI for Accessibility. The company develops science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) games and learning tools aimed towards education of young children, and it will be using Microsoft's help under the aforementioned program to develop AI solutions primarily centered around accessibility.
One such solution currently in development is ReadAble Storiez, a reading fluency program that is aimed at helping students with various learning disabilities. Custom speech models have been created using Azure Machine Learning and Microsoft Cognitive Services in order to identify and provide feedback which is quite similar to what may be provided by speech-language or occupational therapists.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella met with Zyrobotics CEO, Dr. Johnetta MacCalla, and CTO, Dr. Ayanna Howard, last week in Atlanta, Georgia. Zyrobotics' ambitions of creating technologies that would make reading easier for all students - regardless of whether they may or may not be facing learning disabilities - were discussed in particular.
Speaking on being part of this program, Dr. Howard noted:
"In our experience, because every child is different, you have to let them look at technology in different ways, more than just visual and auditory. Our focus is to incorporate interaction and personalization. The usage of AI/machine learning algorithms ensures that our apps are accessible and can be adapted to the personal needs of each child. We are excited about how this grant and partnership with Microsoft will help us address significant gaps for engaging each child based on their unique strengths and abilities."
Microsoft has been heavily involved in recent years when it comes to the subject of accessibility improvements, including moves like free Windows 10 upgrade availability for assistive technology users, in-game chat transcriptions, and most recently, the inclusion of a host of new accessibility features as part of the Windows 10 October 2018 update. Moreover, further grant-winning projects for accessibility improvements will be announced by the company in the coming months.
You can apply for an AI for Accessibility grant and learn more about it here.