Globally, over one billion people are currently in need of Assistive Technology (AT). By 2050, this number is predicted to double. Lack of access to basic AT, such as eyeglasses, hearing aids, wheelchairs or, increasingly, mobile applications, excludes persons with disabilities and reduces their ability to enjoy independent living. Despite the proven advantages of AT for persons with disabilities and older people, their families, and society as a whole, there is still a vast and stubborn gap between the need and the supply; currently only 10% of those who need AT have access to it.
Advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) offer the potential to develop and enhance AT, as well as the possibility of gaining new insights into the scale and nature of need for ATs around the world. New tools that build on progress in the field of machine learning bring enormous possibilities for supporting and assisting persons with disabilities in their everyday lives.
Whereas AI based tools entail the risk of further discriminating persons with disabilities, AI-enabled tools are already being used to help people with vision, hearing, mobility and learning disabilities. Areas such as predictive text, visual recognition, speech-to-text transcription, and captioning have experienced great advances in the last few years. However, many challenges have been raised on whether technology-driven systems can reduce inequality by powering inclusion.
EDF, many of our members and accessibility experts participated in the roundtable discussion “Powering Inclusion: Artificial Intelligence and Assistive Technology”, held last year, along with the AT2030 Programme, a UK Aid-funded initiative, and the newly launched Centre on Artificial Intelligence under the auspices of UNESCO, UCL’s Global Disability Innovation Hub, the UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Public Policy, and The Jožef Stefan Institute.
Some of the points raised during this roundtable discussion were:
- Consider how data, knowledge and learning can be shared effectively between different countries in order to maximise benefits.
- Consider the ethical implications of using AI, particularly where AI is used to recommend who gets access to AT and/or which technology they are offered.
- Work with industry and users to develop guidelines to ensure transparency in AI based decision making.
- Ensure digital inclusion: make digital technologies and contents fully accessible to all people.
If you would like to find out more about this initiative, you can read the policy briefing available. We also recommend you to take a look at EDF Plug and Pray report about emerging technologies, as well as our recent position paper on Assistive Technologies.
Alejandro Moledo, Head of Policy