Microsoft launches five-year, $25 million ‘AI for Accessibility’ initiative

The goal is to provide developers with the means to build tools aimed at improving accessibility

Redmond computing giant Microsoft has announced a new initiative aimed at improving the lives of individuals who live with accessibility needs.

Announced at the company’s Build 2018 conference in Seattle, ‘AI for Accessibility’ is a three-step, five-year, $25 million USD program designed to provide developers working with AI to build tools that “benefit the 1 billion+ people with disabilities around the world,” according to Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith.

“AI can be a game changer for people with disabilities,” said Smith. “Already we’re witnessing this as people with disabilities expand their use of computers to hear, see and reason with impressive accuracy.”

The new initiative will be run by Microsoft’s Accessibility team and chief accessibility officer Jenny Lay-Flurrie.

AI for Accessibility will provide seed grants in the form of technology for developers, universities, organizations and inventors using artificial intelligence (AI) to create solutions for individuals with accessibility needs.

The program will identify the most promising projects “and make larger investments of technology and access to Microsoft AI experts to help bring them to scale.”

Finally, Smith said that Microsoft will work alongside its partners to “incorporate AI innovations into platform level services to empower others to maximize the accessibility of their offerings.”

“By innovating for people with disabilities, we are innovating for us all,” said Smith. “By ensuring that technology fulfills its promise to address the broadest societal needs, we can empower everyone – not just individuals with disabilities – to achieve more.”