On 29th November, the European Disability Forum and Google held a joint event in the European Parliament on artificial intelligence and accessibility, which was hosted by the rapporteur of the European Accessibility Act, Morten Løkkegaard MEP. The event follows on-going discussions between EDF and Google on the future-proofing of new technologies to embrace human diversity. Upcoming technology promises an impending age where many of society’s challenges can be overcome for persons with disabilities but only if inclusion is taken into account at an early stage. In an effort to ensure progress in this area, Google and EDF brought key stakeholders together from across the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector, the disability movement and the European Union institutions to hear directly from technology start-ups in the field and accessibility experts, including from members of the EDF ICT expert group.
Achievements in sectors from machine learning to robotics have the potential to create an inclusive society in which persons with disabilities have access to online services, information, environments and wider experiences on an equal footing to other people – facilitating their independent living and participation in all aspects of life. The European Disability Forum and Google have been working together with this in mind to highlight the potential benefits and impacts these advances.
Echoing this, Morten Løkkegaard MEP in his opening statement to the room stressed that “accessibility is of course the pre-condition for persons living with disabilities to enjoy equal participation and therefore to play an active role in society. With greater accessibility for persons with disabilities we will get a stronger Europe, with increased mobility and more accessibility products and services”. Mr Løkkegaard also mentioned that he feels optimistic that the Accessibility Act may be adopted in 2018.
The event went on to hear from Google Campus Tel Aviv and start-up company, Aira, which uses artificial intelligence to bring greater independence to those that are blind or have low-vision using Google glasses. During the discussion phase of the event many topics were brought forward from moderator, Jenifer Baker, including the role of legislation in general but also in Europe.
On that topic, EDF Executive Committee Member, Humberto Insolera, said “It’s not clear on what Europe wants to do with the future of technology and we think it’s important that the European Accessibility Act sets basic accessibility standard, as so far we have not been successful in the EU in creating the same legislative environments as the US for example. If we did it would enable us to apply the UN CRPD appropriately.”
The event was brought to a close by EDF Director, Catherine Naughton, who echoed the importance of legislation in her closing statement by saying “Legislation has an important role. I’m able to vote as a woman because of legislation”. EDF Director also encouraged industry players to keep involving persons with disabilities to make sure that emerging technologies to come are accessible.
Following the meeting Lie Junius, Public Policy and Government Relations Director at Google Brussels said of the continuation of work between Google and EDF “We strive to solicit feedback from a variety of users and advocacy groups to improve our products. This week, we started what we hope will be a long and productive exchange with EDF and the feedback they share will be instrumental to help us make our products more accessible to everyone.”
This event was the first of a series of conversations with ICT players and accessibility experts to build up a report focussing on the disability movement’s take on emerging technologies like machine learning and wider artificial intelligence, among others. This report will be published in 2018 and will include key actions and recommendations in order to future-proof technology for accessibility so that it may benefit all in society. Some of the general recommendations identified are:
- Universal Design principles should be followed to all future technology to ensure its accessibility;
- Mechanisms should be developed for users to be involved in feedback and research and development processes so that bias can be discovered and corrected, thereby ensuring algorithms are representative of a diverse population;
- Future policy developments in the digital and technology space should be in line with the spirit and accessibility obligations of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD);
- Data of all citizens should be adequately protected, including those deprived of their legal capacity, also by providing clear information on how personal data will be used; and
- Accessible e-Skills and support training programmes should be promoted alongside the development of new technologies, in which the needs of persons with disabilities and older people are taken into consideration.