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How Azure AI is creating a more accessible world

At Microsoft, we are inspired by how artificial intelligence is transforming organizations of all sizes, empowering them to reimagine what’s possible. AI has immense potential to unlock solutions to some of society’s most pressing challenges.

One challenge is that according to the World Health Association, globally, only 1 in 10 people with a disability have access to assistive technologies and products. We believe that AI solutions can have a profound impact on this community. To meet this need, we aim to democratize AI to make it easier for every developer to build accessibility into their apps and services, across language, speech, and vision.

In view of the upcoming Bett Show in London, we’re shining a light on how Immersive Reader enhances reading comprehension for people regardless of their age or ability, and we’re excited to share how Azure AI is broadly enabling developers to build accessible applications that empower everyone.

Empowering readers of all abilities

Immersive Reader is an Azure Cognitive Service that helps users of any age and reading ability with features like reading aloud, translating languages, and focusing attention through highlighting and other design elements. Millions of educators and students already use Immersive Reader to overcome reading and language barriers.

The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria, New York, brings together an incredible diversity of students with different backgrounds and learning styles. The teachers at The Young Women’s Leadership School support many types of learners, including students who struggle with text comprehension due to learning differences, or language learners who may not understand the primary language of the classroom. The school wanted to empower all students, regardless of their background or learning styles, to grow their confidence and love for reading and writing.

A teacher and student looking at a computer together

Watch the story here

Teachers at The Young Women’s Leadership School turned to Immersive Reader and an Azure AI partner, Buncee, as they looked for ways to create a more inclusive and engaging classroom. Buncee enables students and teachers to create and share interactive multimedia projects. With the integration of Immersive Reader, students who are dyslexic can benefit from features that help focus attention in their Buncee presentations, while those who are just learning the English language can have content translated to them in their native language.

Like Buncee, companies including Canvas, Wakelet, ThingLink, and Nearpod are also making content more accessible with Immersive Reader integration. To see the entire list of partners, visit our Immersive Reader Partners page. Discover how you can start embedding Immersive Reader into your apps today. To learn more about how Immersive Reader and other accessibility tools are fostering inclusive classrooms, visit our EDU blog.

Breaking communication barriers

Azure AI is also making conversations, lectures, and meetings more accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. By enabling conversations to be transcribed and translated in real-time, individuals can follow and fully engage with presentations.

The Balavidyalaya School in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India teaches speech and language skills to young children who are deaf or hard of hearing. The school recently held an international conference with hundreds of alumni, students, faculty, and parents. With live captioning and translation powered by Azure AI, attendees were able to follow conversations in their native languages, while the presentations were given in English.

Learn how you can easily integrate multi-language support into your own apps with Speech Translation, and see the technology in action with Translator, with support for more than 60 languages, today.

Engaging learners in new ways

We recently announced the Custom Neural Voice capability of Text to Speech, which enables customers to build a unique voice, starting from just a few minutes of training audio.

The Beijing Hongdandan Visually Impaired Service Center leads the way in applying this technology to empower users in incredible ways. Hongdandan produces educational audiobooks featuring the voice of Lina, China’s first blind broadcaster, using Custom Neural Voice. While creating audiobooks can be a time-consuming process, Custom Neural Voice allows Lina to produce high-quality audiobooks at scale, enabling Hongdandan to support over 105 schools for the blind in China like never before.

“We were amazed by how quickly Azure AI could reproduce Lina’s voice in such a natural-sounding way with her speech data, enabling us to create educational audiobooks much more quickly. We were also highly impressed by Microsoft’s commitment to protecting Lina’s voice and identity.”—Xin Zeng, Executive Director at Hongdandan

Learn how you can give your apps a new voice with Text to Speech.

Making the world visible for everyone

According to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, more than 250 million people are blind or have low vision across the globe. Last month, in celebration of the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Seeing AI, a free iOS app that describes nearby people, text, and objects, expanded support to five new languages. The additional language support for Spanish, Japanese, German, French, and Dutch makes it possible for millions of blind or low vision individuals to read documents, engage with people around them, hear descriptions of their surroundings in their native language, and much more. All of this is made possible with Azure AI.

Try Seeing AI today or extend vision capabilities to your own apps using Computer Vision and Custom Vision.

Get involved

We are humbled and inspired by what individuals and organizations are accomplishing today with Azure AI technologies. We can’t wait to see how you will continue to build on these technologies to unlock new possibilities and design more accessible experiences. Get started today with a free trial.

Check out our AI for Accessibility program to learn more about how companies are harnessing the power of AI to amplify capabilities for the millions of people around the world with a disability.

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Soundscape app uses Bing Maps to deliver the world in 3D sound to people who are blind or have low vision

Imagine being able to navigate through your neighborhood using your hearing alone. Microsoft Soundscape is an application built by the Enable Group in Microsoft Research that helps the blind and low vision explore the world around them using a map delivered in 3D sound. Armed with a stereo headset and the Soundscape app, anyone with a visual impairment can experience a mobile voice-based map that helps empower by providing the independence to traverse your environment and the ability to choose how to get from place to another.

With the help of Bing Maps Local Search and Bing Maps Location Recognition APIs, Soundscape enables you to hear where landmarks are around you to orient yourself, build a richer awareness of your surroundings, and have the confidence to discover what’s around the next corner.

Read the full story at

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A personal view: How technology makes life easier for people with disabilities

Although this pump therapy is already regarded as an advanced form of therapy and long-term damage threatened by type 1 diabetes is reduced, it has one weakness: the individual devices work independently of each other. To date, there is no approved medical device that takes at least one of the many factors influencing blood sugar into account and, depending on this, regulates the administration of insulin. Imagine if you did not have a thermostat at home to regulate the room temperature, but instead had to measure the temperature with a thermometer and then operate the heating controller by hand to increase or decrease the temperature. This is mainly due to the fact that research on type 1 diabetes has largely been discontinued, since existing therapies are considered sufficient, and the treatment of type 2 diabetes, which is 20 times more common, is considered more profitable by pharmaceutical companies.

As a techie, I didn’t want to settle for a missing thermostat in my house. That’s why I took my therapy change in hand with a certain goal in mind: I became aware of a do-it-yourself community that is also not satisfied with the status quo of diabetes therapy. They are called The Loopers. Their motto is #WeAreNotWaiting – and I wanted to close the gap and also become a looper.

Loopers are people with type 1 diabetes who, with the help of self-written programs and self-built hardware, ensure that the thermostat works automatically – and at the same time also registers that a window is open or that there will soon be a change in the outside temperature. In total, an estimated 10,000 people loop worldwide – and help others to build their own system that currently outshines any commercial solution in terms of security and results.

With the help of this community, I have built my own system where the pump and the sensor can interact with each other using smartphones or micro PCs. For example, an Intel Edison uses the values of my sensor and my pump to predict a new course of blood sugar every 5 minutes for the next 2 hours and, depending on this, makes corrections with the help of insulin inputs or interruptions. The technology saves me the constant monitoring of my blood sugar level and I can be sure that my blood sugar is not responsible for a loss of consciousness – during sleep, driving or sports, which could have fatal consequences. Since I started looping, the fluctuations in my blood sugar level have almost levelled off at the level of people without diabetes.

The backend, which documents the sensor data and all meals and insulin inputs, runs on our cloud platform, Microsoft Azure. I control my progress and can visualize fluctuations in real-time just like the forecasts. This backend is also the basis for a system I built myself, which always shows me the status by lights in my home office and warns me of hypoglycemia.

Because building one’s own system is a challenge where no medical professionals can help due to a lack of clarity regarding liability, I am very grateful that there is the DIY Loop community that passes on its knowledge to other people with diabetes. For me, the use of technology means a lower health risk because the system protects me from difficult situations in the short and long term. The community lives from the fact that people pass on what they themselves have received. It is exactly in this sense that I participate in the underlying Open Source projects cgm-remote-monitor and OpenAPS. In addition, I blog in German on the subject and am also a type 1 diabetes activist on Twitter.

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Meet Spencer Allen: a passionate gamer and relentless creator who’s on a mission to help everyone game

Giving up has never been a phrase that existed in Spencer’s vocabulary. From the time he was a little boy, his parents instilled upon him and his siblings the importance of pushing through, even when things got hard. “I think our family has always been people who accept what we have, work with it, and don’t dwell on things that aren’t going as well as we’d like,” says Spencer’s mom, Sue. “That’s always been the way of this family: supporting each other.”

The spirit of determination helped Spencer grow as a high school skier and lacrosse player, and eventually become the captain for both teams.

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Minecraft now more autism friendly with accessibility features

Anyone who has joined an online game knows chat can be a fun, engaging, and useful tool in teaming up, but it can also be an intimidating, cumbersome mechanism to utilize when there are many things on screen vying for your attention. Sometimes you want to turn chat off, mute certain players, or it may be too difficult to read what others are typing in a busy game. The simple concept of making in-game chat more customizable can dramatically improve your game experience. That’s exactly what a Microsoft Garage intern team set out to do for their winter 2018 Garage internship project in Vancouver: they built features to make Minecraft accessible to more audiences, like the autism community.

“We focused on features that would help people with autism especially, but anybody who plays the game in the future would also benefit.” Michaela Olsakova was a Software Engineer intern during her Garage internship. Stemming from the initial project pitch by the project sponsors, the Minecraft Education team, the philosophy of inclusive design was at the core of the project idea. “Even though we designed for one customer profile, there are multiple other customers who would find value.”

The interns handed their project off to their sponsors on the Minecraft Education team last year and the features were added to Minecraft: Education Edition. Now the team is ready to release the project’s chat-features to the Bedrock version of Minecraft as a suite of chat settings allowing players to customize font, line spacing, font size, and chat colors for all chat and player mentions. These new additions complement existing accessibility features like speech-to-text chat, making Minecraft an even more collaborative and socially connective environment with over 112 million players per month across all versions of the platform.

Garage Vancouver interns from the Minecraft Autism chat features project
Arnaud Paré-Vogt, Henry Li, Joy Zhang, Michaela Olsakova, Rose Hirigoyen, Riad Gahlouz, Charmaine Lee

“At the beginning of our internship, we attended a conference on inclusive design, it was always at the center of everything we did.” Riad Gahlouz was a Software Engineer intern. He explained how the idea of accessibility for the autism community resonated deeply with him. “I have a few family friends that are on the autism spectrum. I’ve always been inclined to help them achieve stuff, things that may seem simple for others but can be difficult for them.” That, coupled with a childhood dream to work on Minecraft, sealed the deal for Riad when it came time for the Garage intern team to give their input about which projects to work on. “When I saw the pitch from the Minecraft Education sponsors, I thought this is the perfect match. I got Arnaud interested in the project and then everyone else kind of followed.”

Arnaud Pare-Vogt was a Software Engineer intern on the project. He shared a simple but important message that guided their approach to accessibility. “Having accessibility features doesn’t have to impact the difficulty of the game.” While working on the project, Arnaud and team encountered the misconception that making games more accessible meant making them easier. The interns demonstrated that simply was not true and that these features are independent from what makes a game difficult. “Designing a game for inclusivity and accessibility doesn’t mean you have to make it easy.”

Rose Hirigoyen was a Software Engineer and quality co-champion along with Riad on the project. “This project taught us to really learn about the customer first – in our case it was meeting and talking with people of varying abilities, understanding how it feels for them when they’re gaming, what challenges they face, and what we can do to help not just in Minecraft but in general, to have a deeper understanding of their experience.”

Rose explained how sensory overload, when a person might experience sounds, visual signals, or colors that can be extremely overwhelming, can dramatically affect their ability to play. “Usually the chat was one big, white wall of text. When you see that, it can be hard to read, hard to make out the different people that are speaking. We wanted to give options like making the text bigger, and adding spacing and color, so when you’re playing with friends it will be easier to communicate with them.” Not only text, but colors, objects, shapes, and patterns are all potential culprits.

As part of making Minecraft more accessible and enjoyable, people like Melissa Boone, a Research Manager at Xbox, explores how to design better game experiences. Melissa was one of three social and behavioral scientists who provided customer research guidance to the interns. She has been closely involved with the Minecraft team for several years, watching people playing games and talking with players to uncover what they love as well as what can be improved.

“Minecraft is one of those teams that’s super progressive and inclusive, with one of the most diverse game audiences out there. We want to continue that tradition.”

“Everyone was excited for the opportunity to bring more accessibility into the game.” Melissa guided the interns on how to conduct user research studies, including how to recruit people for the study, having the right kind of audience to participate, determining what questions to ask, and how to have productive conversations. “Because there is a large existing community of Minecraft players with autism, it made a lot of sense to focus the project efforts there and meet the players where they are.” User research was a key component that informed what features should be built. “It was pretty cool to have the opportunity to teach the interns the research process so they could conduct actual studies themselves, analyze the results and uncover insights. It’s a skill they can use in other contexts no matter what they’re working on.”

Stéphane Morichere-Matte is Principal Program Manager for The Garage and runs the Vancouver Garage Internship. Over the years, a customer-focused approach remains an important pillar for each project, and as a result, he has cultivated relationships with diverse groups and communities all over Canada. “Our interns were very fortunate to be hosted by the Pacific Family Autism Network, where we got to work with the community to find out how to make games more inclusive. The game enhancements are not very difficult to do, but it can make such a positive impact.”

Communication can be difficult for people on the autism spectrum, which is why the interns decided to focus on developing chat features. “While visiting the Pacific Family Autism Network, we witnessed a lot of people who bonded over these games,” Program Manager intern Charmaine Lee explained. “People are making meaningful connections through gaming, so it’s very rewarding when they have a game experience that fits their needs.”

Another thriving Minecraft community of players of all ages is found on Autcraft, a whitelisted Minecraft Java Edition server. Teachers also have been using Minecraft to support special education classes and engage students in custom lesson plans with Minecraft: Education Edition.

Minecraft accessible chat features settings menu

Henry Li, the Designer intern on the project, recounted how it was his first internship experience and one that he won’t soon forget. “I worked with these really talented interns, my peers, on one of the biggest IP’s in the world. It was an honor to work on such a hugely impactful project.” The practice of embracing new ideas and continually learning was something he acquired along the journey. “A lot of the growth mindset I absorbed from everyone around me. Each day you get to learn something new and there’s plenty of things to do. In those four months I learned so much. Once you have a growth mindset, your life will be different.” The interns pushed each other’s limits and accelerated productivity, helping each other grow, learn from failure, and celebrate the moments of success. “Even though the pressure you have is from your peers – everyone has dependencies and ownership of the project, we get to decide what to do and what to work on – it’s having that great teamwork that helps foster growth.”

Echoing this sentiment was Michaela. “Somehow we all got really lucky and had the most amazing team to work on this. You succeed together and fail together. I think that’s rare. I’ll never forget it.”

Each day, gaming is becoming more accessible to people from all walks of life. The Xbox Adaptive Controller, games like Ear Hockey, and game-dev tools like Responsive Spatial Audio for Immersive Gaming, are only a few of the ways Microsoft is practicing thoughtful, human-centric design for technology that connects people. The interns can now add Minecraft accessible chat-features to the expanding list, with high hopes that everyone can benefit from easier to read, customizable chat, tailored by you, to enhance your Minecraft experience.

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Accessibility and employment for all: key resources for job seekers and employers

Yvette White | General Manager, HR Microsoft US

People are unique in many ways, but the presence of a disability may set an individual apart from the larger group in ways that present particular challenges. In fact, 1 in 5 people have disability and need assistive technology[JC(1] . At times, these disabilities can create obstacles to an individual’s ability to gain employment. For example, the joblessness rate for New Yorkers with disabilities between the ages of 16-64 is a staggering 79%.

The New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) is responding to this issue with a comprehensive workforce development program that establishes relationships with both businesses and job seekers with disabilities. This year, as part of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Microsoft is proud to partner with MOPD and the NYC business community for our inaugural NYC Access and Employment Week, which is taking place October 21-25, 2019.

At this event, we are connecting job seekers with jobs and careers through the city’s largest employment recruitment event for people with disabilities. Educators, Chief Diversity Officers, students, job candidates, and many others will also have a chance learn how assistive technologies are enabling people to successfully navigate daily challenges and achieve new heights.

Microsoft is excited to participate in this event and share these top resources for job seekers and employers alike to help build a workforce that benefits from the diverse talents and skills of all.

For job seekers:

For employers:

  • Insights. At Microsoft, diversity within our workforce is what fuels innovation. Learn more about Microsoft’s inclusive hiring practices.

For everybody:

  • Training. Make your emails, documents, spreadsheets and presentation decks more accessible
  • Templates. Get a fast start on creating more accessible content with these accessible Word, Excel and PowerPoint templates
  • Accessibility Checker. Identify accessibility problems and get tips for making your content more accessible.

To see the full schedule of public events, visit the NYC Access and Employment Week website. For more information on Microsoft’s assistive technologies, visit our Accessibility page.



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How AI is helping children overcome their speech disabilities

The idea immediately appealed to brothers Alex and Cosmin, who founded Ascendia after seeing how their mother, a teacher, struggled to meet all her students’ needs with limited resources. What started as a personal passion project has flourished in the last decade to become a multinational company operated by 33 staff in nine countries. So far, Ascendia has created over 1,100 hours of educational content supporting students, parents and teachers alike. As Cosmin Malureanu puts it, “our goal is to get teachers comfortable with new technologies, so they can prepare the next generation for the jobs of the future, not those of the past.”

With the support of Alex and Cosmin, Daniela and her team set about creating a solution to help children working to overcome their speech disabilities – a solution now known as Timlogo.

Timlogo is an interactive, digital speech development tool that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse children’s pronunciation and diagnose their specific speech issues, and then recommend the most relevant course of exercises to correct these. The tool’s offering also learns and adapts over time, meaning that as children improve, the suggested exercises evolve too.

Most importantly, Timlogo is designed to be fun, integrating games, characters and stories that spark a child’s imagination and hold their attention. Teacher and speech therapist Dragan Georgeta explains: “Many children become anxious when they struggle to pronounce certain sounds. But in Timlogo, they are introduced to cartoon characters who tell a story around each sound and encourage them to join in and attempt to pronounce it.” This gamification creates a feeling of inclusion and boosts children’s confidence, something that is key when it comes to overcoming speech difficulties.

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Chief Accessibility Officer Jenny Lay-Flurrie on empowering employees with disabilities

We Are All Advocates

There is a simple concept in the world of accessibility and disability inclusion if you don’t know, ask‘. If you don’t know what resources are available in your workplace, raise the question. If you are unsure of what responsibilities your organization has to help empower employees with disabilities, seek out the information. The more we ask questions and have a willingness to learn and grow, the better off we will all be. 

Microsoft President Brad Smith recently spoke at the National Federation of the Blind 2019 National Convention about why we can’t just focus on technology, we need to put people first. He underscored that we need to look beyond the products and features that everyone uses today and fundamentally ask ourselves, “How can we imagine new technology that can fundamentally improve people’s lives in ways they haven’t yet experienced?” Over the summer, Microsoft Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela attended the Disability:IN Annual Conference and Expo and represented Microsoft, where he accepted the Marketplace Innovator of the Year Award on behalf of the company. Reflecting on his experience at the conference, he noted that, “including people with disabilities in our organizations pays off in multiple ways. At Microsoft, inclusion is at the core of our mission.” 

This gets to the heart of what we do every day at Microsoft and how we can empower people with disabilities around the world. We are all on a journey together. Building partnerships, listening, asking, and learning can net results for your organization. We don’t have all the answers, but if we work together, we can create positive change for everyone.  

I also think it is incredibly important to try new things and ask ourselves, “what more can we do to empower our employees and the broader disability community?” For example, we have been working with BraunAbility, a leading manufacturer of wheelchair accessible vehicles and other mobility transportation solutions, to test a new 3-D graphic for ADA Parking spaces at the Living Well Health Center on our Redmond Campus. Our goal is to help drivers and passengers get in and out of their vehicle safely and to help deter misuse of the accessible spaces and access aisles. This is part of BraunAbility’s Drive for Inclusion initiative and we are getting great feedback from employees. Creating an inclusive culture is so much more than just adhering to laws (which is important!), but really focusing on everything we can do to build an environment where everyone can thrive. 

Tune in throughout the month as we share more stories, demos, and ways to get involved in the movement.  

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‘We are at a crossroads’ – How Microsoft’s Accessibility team is making an impact that will be felt for generations

What should businesses do better?

I don’t want to oversimplify – but it’s about people’s attitude to the differences among us. Companies should view disability as a strength. There are over 1 billion people with disabilities globally. Having people with disabilities within the fabric of any company helps ensure that all customers are represented.

That’s especially important now with AI. It can either introduce unnecessary bias or truly represent the needs of people everywhere. Automation is coming in all areas of the workforce, and we need to ensure it doesn’t leave people with disabilities behind. Not too long ago, you could see people with disabilities work in both industrial and office settings. But now when you bring in automation – and you create more complex technology – it can create a gap. If we don’t treat accessibility in a systemic way, it will be hard to correct later.

Anne Taylor, Microsoft's Director of Supportability

Microsoft’s President Brad Smith and co-author Carol Ann Browne make this point in their New York Times Best Seller “Tools and Weapons: The Promise and Perils of the Digital Age”: “When your technology changes the world, you bear a responsibility to help address the world that you have helped create.” That is the right sentiment, and that’s a responsibility I hope we all take with the understanding that accessibility and equal access to information is a right for everyone. A part of this responsibility is addressing the lack of technology training in the disability community. The entire industry can do more through implementing education programs for users of all levels to learn to properly use our technologies, and ultimately help decrease the unemployment gap.

In “Tools and Weapons,” Microsoft recognizes it is in a unique position to do this. Everybody has a place in society and a sense of belonging. Our mission is to empower everyone on the planet to achieve more – including people with disabilities.

How do you help bring accessibility into the heart of what Microsoft does on a daily basis?

Working alongside my colleagues from the various engineering teams, I bring the lens of people with disabilities to make sure our products are compliant with accessibility standards. But I want to go beyond compliant. I want to encourage, inspire and motivate teams to think outside the box and innovate with accessibility design as an essential component to any product or service. Let’s cut down on inefficiencies and other frictions, while at the same time creating technologies that are accessible, easy to learn, and have the lowest barrier of entry for everyone. In my discussions with partners across Microsoft, I often remind them that accessibility innovations are not reserved only for specialized assistive technology made for people with disabilities, but they are essential to every product that we create.

There is a myth that accessibility impedes innovations, but history shows us the opposite is true. Innovations such as video captioning for the deaf to access television programs is now used in bars and restaurants everywhere for all people to use, and voice recognition technology developed in the late 1970s at Rehabilitation Medicine in New York for patients to operate their wheelchairs is now available in everyone’s phones and cars. These examples, among others, teach us that accessibility innovations can benefit us all.

Specialized technologies made for and used by people with disabilities, in the industry it’s often called AT – assistive technology. I’d love to call it access technology instead. That’s an empowering term. For those partners who build their AT in Microsoft’s environment, the Accessibility team is maintaining close partnerships with them to provide proper support and encouragement, so that they can create AT that works well in Microsoft’s ecosystem.

Another aspect of my work includes a lot of demonstrations, so I can show people exactly what works well and collaborate on opportunities to improve. Once I have opportunities to surface problems, then we can have meaningful discussions on topics like accessible design, user interface and how people with disabilities are using AT with Microsoft’s products. Accessibility technical excellence can only be achieved when designers and developers collaborate closely with end users with disabilities. We have been able to make progress because of the support from the various engineering teams that I have the privilege to work with. I am very thankful for their partnership and continued commitment.

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7 ways tech is helping people who are blind or have low vision

It’s estimated that there are about 36 million people in the world who are blind, and a further 216 million who live with moderate to severe visual impairments. Although the World Health Organization points out that up to 80% of vision impairment around the world is avoidable with better access to treatment, the number of people who are blind or have low vision is rising as the global population ages.

But technology is playing a vital role in tearing down barriers, and artificial intelligence is making real inroads into improving accessibility.

Here are seven examples of how smart technology can be a game-changer, allowing everyone to interact with the world in new ways.

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The eye in AI

As we’ve reported, Microsoft’s Seeing AI is an app designed to help people with low vision or who are blind. It enhances the world around the user with rich audio descriptions. It can read a handwritten note or scan a barcode and then tell the user what the product is. Point a camera at something and the app will describe how many people it can see and where they are in the image – center, top left and so on.

3-D Sound Maps

YouTube Video

For a sighted person, walking along the street can mean taking in every detail that surrounds them. Microsoft Soundscape replicates that behavior by building a detailed audio map that relates what’s taking place around a person with visual impairment.

It creates layers of context and detail by drawing on location data, sound beacons and synthesized 3-D stereo sound to build a constantly updating 3-D sound map of the surrounding world.

Knowledge at your fingertips

Braille has been used for nearly 200 years as a tactile way of reading with fingertips. It has now jumped from the page to the screen with the updated version of Narrator, the screen-reader for Microsoft Windows, supporting digital Braille displays and keyboards.

Outside of Microsoft’s efforts, Braille touchscreens that work in the same way as tablets have already proved popular among students and teachers. At the Assistive Technology Industry Association’s 2019 conference in Orlando, Florida, innovations on display included the BraiBook, a Braille e-reader that fits into the palm of a hand, and even an electronic toy called the Braille Buzz, designed to teach Braille to preschoolers.

Beacons of change

Bluetooth beacons, such as those being used by the company Foresight Augmented Reality, act like highly precise, personalized guides for people who are blind or partially sighted. While basic GPS technology can take users to a location, beacons mounted in a store, restaurant or public building can guide them to the entrance of the building in question. And when the user is inside, other beacons can direct them to the bathroom or other important facilities.

Electric vehicles

The European Union is taking no chances with people’s safety. New legislation means electric vehicles have to be audible  at low speeds and while reversing. Some manufacturers are already incorporating artificial noise into their electric vehicles.

Smart Glasses

Researchers at Ajman University in the United Arab Emirates are working on the development of a set of smart glasses that can use AI to read, provide navigation information and potentially identify faces. Glasses are connected to a smartphone through a processing unit, allowing the system to function without an internet connection.

These smart glasses are still in the early stages of development but are said to work with a reading accuracy rate of 95%.

AI for Accessibility

Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility program was launched last year, with a $25 million commitment to put Microsoft technology in the hands of start-ups, developers, researchers and non-profits in order to drive innovation and amplify human capability for people with disabilities. The program is continuously looking at new projects to support.

For more on these innovations and accessibility initiatives at Microsoft, visit and follow @MSFTIssues on Twitter.