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There are no limits to what people can achieve

Our NSW Event Partner, Luli Adeyemo, recently met with AIIA Member Anita Sood, ISV & Next Generation Partnerships Lead at Microsoft, to talk about The Microsoft AI for Accessibility Challenge. According to Anita Sood, there are no limits to what people can achieve. Anita has severe dyslexia and she uses technology to guide her through her day, so accessibility is near and dear to everything she and her team do every day.

Anita started off as an artist, since her father was a quantum physicist Anita knew a compromise had to be found regarding her career path. Eventually, Anita went on to complete a computer science degree with the second half of her degree in art, history and technology at the University of Westminster, London. It was here that Microsoft noticed the fascinating work she was doing and asked her to join them.

Today Anita looks after the new, cool and exciting stuff at Microsoft. She heads up a team that advocates and supports startups building digital apps and helps put them on the world stage. Anita is passionate that organisations that build products make them accessible for all, from the beginning rather than as an afterthought. That is what drove their thinking behind the Microsoft AI for Accessibility Challenge.

Anita is asking anyone from a technical and non-technical background in the Microsoft partner ecosystem to enter the challenge. They have had submissions from CTO’s to teachers, who put together a PowerPoint on how to address down syndrome in the class room. When she says anyone can enter, she means it.

“To the people on the street, in a nutshell what is The Microsoft Australian AI for Accessibility Challenge?”

To mark International Day of People with Disability, we launched Microsoft Australia’s AI for Accessibility Challenge. With close to 4 million Australians living with some form of disability, we believe there are no limits to what people can achieve when technology reflects the diversity of everyone. This is why we are calling on our partner community to help us unlock the world of opportunity that AI presents for accessibility.

“Do you think it will spark new thinking in Microsoft’s Partner Community?”

100% – At Microsoft we believe that by designing for accessibility from the start, we’re able to draw on the full range of human diversity. Our aim is to spark new thinking in the partner ecosystem and make AI accessible to and valuable for everyone. We are doing this by focusing on AI innovations that can extend and empower human capabilities through the AI for Accessibility challenge.

We also hope that by sharing the Inclusive Design principles and guidelines with the partner community we’re able to inspire the Microsoft ecosystem to build accessibility into their products and services, to seek out those exclusions and use them as opportunities to unlock new ideas and innovation that will empower ALL Australians.

We know that by designing for accessibility front and centre, the benefits are not just limited to those with a permanent disability but extend to people universally. Just think about closed captions, which were originally designed for people with limited hearing but are now used universally across the global.

“I read that the ideas submitted do not have to be technical, can you explain this?”

Absolutely, all we are asking for is each partner organisation to form a team, download the Accessibility digital toolkit and complete the 11-minute Accessibility 101 training. From there we know that this has inspired partner organisations to think about how we can empower all Australians. We have one partner organisation that has put together a marketing team that is thinking about how they can help people with dyslexia who want to publish LinkedIn posts by checking their grammar and spelling more carefully. Anyone who has an idea is welcome to submit to the AI for Accessibility challenge and the winner will be supported with mentoring and coaching to transform this into a solution, so you don’t need to be technical – you just need a growth mindset!

“How soon could someone with a disability be able to use a solution as a result of this initiative?”

The AI for Accessibility close date for submission is on 15th March and the pitch day for the challenge is on April 3rd. We plan to announce the winners on April 5th and this is when we will put a plan in place with the winner to accelerate their idea into a solution – this could be anywhere between a couple of weeks to months. Our goal is to have something ready for July 1st 2019.

“Where have you seen AI empower people with disabilities?”

I personally have a learning disability, dyslexia to be specific, and every day I use the power of technology to help guide my day from using the Microsoft learning tools such as the Immersive Reader. In addition to this, our visual tools like PowerBI help me visually read and make business decisions, which has changed my life.

Another example is Seeing AI technology that was developed by my friend Saqib Shaikh, which helps blind and partially sighted people by narrating the world around them.

One of our team members, Kenny Sigh, worked with Vision Australia to release Soundscape in Australia, which is innovative audio-based technology to enable people, particularly those with blindness or low vision, to build a richer awareness of their surroundings.

“In terms of the events industry, can you see AI as an enabler for people with a disability?”

This is a great question. Last year, Humanitix, a not-for-profit, won Microsoft’s Hack for Good (the first event we held to develop with partners and customers accessible solutions). They have had a massive impact on the events industry and they have transformed their event booking system to ensure it’s fully accessible to all. One of our employees who has a visual disability worked with Humantix to uncover typical challenges for people with disabilities when registering for an event. For example, if you are blind how do you know where the taxi pickup area is at a certain event? Within a 6 week period of working with Microsoft, Humanitix re-engineered their solution platform to be an end to end accessible platform to enable an event ticketing experience for all.

“Finally, how do people make an application for the AI for Accessibility Challenge?”

There are three ways you can get involved: register your interest, explore the toolkit and share your ideas. Register here!

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