Artificial intelligence (AI) is a technology that can offer great opportunities for the world of disability, improving the quality of life, accessibility and social inclusion of many people. In this article, we will look at some concrete initiatives that demonstrate how AI can serve people with disabilities, whether in education, employment, culture or sports.
AI and disability: educational initiatives
Education is a fundamental right for all children and young people, but people with disabilities often face difficulties and barriers in accessing and participating in school activities. For this reason, AI can be a valuable tool to facilitate learning, autonomy and communication for pupils with disabilities through innovative and customised solutions.
- One example is the Easytoread facilitated language guide created by the association L’Abilità onlus and financed by the De Agostini Foundation, to make the visit to the Archaeological Park of Pompeii accessible to people with intellectual disabilities. The guide uses simple and clear language, accompanied by images and symbols, to tell the history and curiosities of the archaeological site, stimulating the understanding and interest of visitors with disabilities.
- Another example is the ‘AI for Inclusion’ project launched by Microsoft Italy, which invites companies, start-ups, associations and the academic world to develop projects based on generative AI solutions to enhance diversity and promote greater accessibility in business and society. Among the objectives of the project, there is also the strengthening of autonomy and communication assistance services for pupils with disabilities in pre-school, primary and secondary schools.
AI and disability: work initiatives
Work is another key area for the social inclusion of people with disabilities, but they often face obstacles and prejudices that limit their opportunities and potential. AI can help create more accessible and inclusive working environments, facilitating interaction with everyday technological tools and offering customised solutions for different needs.
- One example is Microsoft Copilot, an AI that helps developers write code faster and easier by suggesting lines of code and correcting errors1. This can be useful for people with visual, hearing or motor disabilities, who can use AI to communicate with the computer via voice, gesture or eye commands, and write code more fluidly and intuitively.
- Another example is the project ‘I Ragazzi di Plinio’ (Pliny’s Boys), implemented by the Tulipano social cooperative and the Federico II University, Department of Translational Medical Sciences, to offer experimental paths for the use of the domus of the Pompeii Archaeological Park and for the realisation of training and work placement for persons and boys with autism or cognitive disabilities. The project involves the use of tablets and smartphones equipped with augmented and virtual reality apps, which allow participants to interact with the works of art and learn restoration and conservation techniques.
AI and disability: cultural and sports initiatives
Culture and sport are two important areas for the well-being and personal development of people with disabilities, but they are often not very accessible and inclusive. AI can help overcome these barriers by offering solutions that make it easier and more enjoyable to enjoy cultural and sports content, and that stimulate the creativity and participation of people with disabilities.
One example is the ‘AI for Accessibility’ project, promoted by Microsoft, which funds and supports innovative ideas that use AI to improve the lives of people with disabilities worldwide1. Among the projects financed, there are some concerning culture and sport, such as:
- Seeing AI, an app that uses the smartphone camera to describe people, text, objects and surrounding scenes to people with visual impairments, enabling them to access information and content that would otherwise be inaccessible.
- Seeing AI, un’applicazione che utilizza la fotocamera dello smartphone per descrivere persone, testi, oggetti e scene circostanti a persone con disabilità visive, consentendo loro di accedere a informazioni e contenuti altrimenti inaccessibili.
- Project Tokyo, a project that uses a camera mounted on glasses and a headset to help visually impaired people recognise people and situations around them, facilitating social interactions and participation in cultural and sporting events.
Some information on the event organised by Microsoft Italy
The highlights were:
- Hackathon “AI for Inclusion”: Microsoft Italy launches a call to action for the development of projects based on generative AI solutions to enhance diversity and promote greater accessibility in business and society. The hackathon is open to companies, start-ups, associations and academia.
- Generative AI and social inclusion: Microsoft emphasises how new digital trends such as generative AI can help people with disabilities in everyday operations and offer them the opportunity to fulfil their potential also in their professional lives. Microsoft develops inclusive products ‘by design’ and introduces Microsoft Copilot, an AI that facilitates interaction with everyday technological tools.
- Evento in Microsoft House: Microsoft talks to companies, start-ups, NGOs and associations about the role of digital as an enabler of social inclusion that can enhance talent and diversity in the company. The event was attended by various actors who shared their experiences and challenges in this field.
AI is a technology that can have a positive impact on the world of disability, if used in an ethical and responsible way, to create solutions that meet the needs and desires of people with disabilities, enhancing their diversity and promoting their social inclusion. In this article, we have seen some examples of concrete initiatives that demonstrate how AI can serve people with disabilities, in education, employment, culture and sports. These initiatives are only part of a broader and evolving panorama, which requires collaboration between different actors, such as companies, institutions, associations, researchers and people with disabilities, in order to make the most of the potential of AI and to ensure respect for the rights and dignity of people with disabilities.