AI – An Effective Tool To Bridge The Inclusion Gap For The Disabled?

AI and Disability

Artificial Intelligence is now here and here to stay. Every aspect of our lives is going to get very majorly influenced by this new trend very soon. Major companies are setting aside considerable time and funds to see how AI can help them work better and improve operations and hence the profitability of doing business. But there is an angle to AI that is beyond just this. Effective use of AI can actually solve many aspects of inclusion and accessibility in day to day life and enable the disabled to get a fair shot at a properly decent quality of life.

AI and Disability

Let us look at a few key problems that AI can solve for the disabled. First take the case of the visually challenged. We see that the smartphone is now almost another organ in the human body, but the primary means of interaction with this extension of ourselves is by seeing and touching, co-ordination of both these activities is a major problem for the visually challenged. But this has now changed a lot with the advent of AI enabled smartphone assistants that you can speak to and they speak back to you. This makes using the device a lot simpler for the challenged. Also the key point to note here is that AI is one step ahead of just a screen reader of voice to text converter as it can also grasp context. An example is the fact that you can ask the google assistant what movies are playing nearby and based on your location, you get very precise answers with locations which you can then proceed to ask Google maps to guide you to, maps too will speak to you during your travel.

Beyond this simple application to phones, AI is now doing a lot of wondrous things that were hitherto in the realm of fantasy. There are AI programs that help the blind to walk through obstacles real-time based on what is in front of them and where they are going. There are even AI-enabled spatial guidance modules that blind marathon runners use to negotiate long-distance runs in real-time.

Imagine a visually challenged person wanting to do banking transactions online, this was very tricky earlier. But now the advent of AI-enabled chatbots with a speech interface means that they can just casually chat to their banks and get things done. These AI assistants seamlessly handover control to human operators at vital parts of transactions where human assistance is unavoidable.

The key difference that AI brings into the equation is the fact that it can understand context and respond accordingly to that. The advantage there is even better because these systems are learning all the time and they understand use patterns and behaviour of individuals very well. There are bots that can have proper interactions with autistic people and help them to get accustomed to sustained interaction and social contact which are challenges for them

In the west, AI has started enabling smart wheelchairs that look at the terrain that is in front of it and immediately use logic to figure out the optimal route from one point to another. There are also key corporate functions like hiring where AI is now being deployed to eliminate bias and bring in objectivity into the recruitment process. What this means for the disabled is that they will no longer be summarily rejected when they apply for posts due to bias, they will be screened for skills and evaluated based on capability. This will increase their chances of finding gainful employment and help them lead a better life.

AI is powering very powerful and adaptive prosthetic limbs and various other support mechanisms that are now more aware of the environment. This makes the primary problem of mobility easier to solve for the disabled.

The whole world is anticipating the advent of self-driving cars in a big way, these cars rely on AI to drive themselves. For the disabled, this is a major unshackling from the need to depend on someone to drive them from one point to another. This will greatly improve mobility and life in general for the disabled who are now woefully short of travel options.

So, it will not be an exaggeration to say that AI will play a major role in the way the problem of access for the disabled is tackled and will very definitely bring in an exponential change for the better in the lives of the disabled. The future looks intelligent indeed, albeit a little artificial!

About Shakthi

I am a Tech Blogger, Disability Activist, Keynote Speaker, Startup Mentor and Digital Branding Consultant. Also a McKinsey Executive Panel Member. Also known as @v_shakthi on twitter. Been around Tech for two decades now.

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