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AI and A11Y: Navigating the AI Revolution

People have written a lot about the pros and cons of artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on people with disabilities. I do not pretend to be an expert, and I certainly can not cover the breadth of the subject adequately in just one blog post.

Therefore, I will focus on two positive aspects and two negative aspects of AI. However, before delving into those points, it is important to clarify the distinction between AI and augmented reality (AR).

AI involves replicating human intelligence in machines, enabling them to undertake tasks that typically necessitate human cognitive abilities, such as learning, reasoning, problem-solving, and decision-making.

AR, on the other hand, is a technology that superimposes virtual elements—such as images, sounds, or text—onto the real world, enhancing users' perception and interaction with their surroundings.

AI has the potential to significantly impact accessibility in various domains such as education, healthcare, transportation, and communication. By understanding the potential benefits and drawbacks, we can work towards creating AI systems that are bias-free, accessible to people of all abilities, and better protect vulnerable populations.

The Pros of AI for People with Disabilities

  • Augmented and Alternative Communication: Augmentative means to add to someone's speech. Alternative means to be used instead of speech. Several AI-powered speech recognition and natural language processing technologies can help individuals with speech impairments communicate more effectively.
    • Spoken is an app (iOS / Android) designed to support children, teenagers, and adults who cannot communicate verbally. (Alternative) 
    • Quick Talk is an app (iOS / Android) that uses visual buttons and typing mode to enable those who are non-verbal the ability to communicate. (Alternative / Augmented)

  • Accessibility in Digital Content: AI plays a crucial role in enhancing the accessibility of digital content. By harnessing the power of AI algorithms, automatic captioning, and transcription services enable people with hearing impairments to access videos and audio content effortlessly. Moreover, AI can contribute significantly by generating alternative text descriptions for images. Note: These capabilities are far from perfect and still require human intervention for quality control.

The Cons of AI for People with Disabilities

  • Reinforcement of Stereotypes: It is crucial to acknowledge that AI algorithms have the potential to perpetuate detrimental stereotypes about people with disabilities. This outcome results from using biased data during AI system training or forming incorrect assumptions based on limited information. For example, an image recognition system powered by AI may erroneously label someone using a mobility aid as "helpless" or "incapable," reinforcing negative perceptions.
  • Lack of Accessibility: People with disabilities who depend on particular interfaces or assistive technologies may face obstacles due to the lack of accessibility features in AI applications like voice assistants or chatbots. For example, individuals with speech impairments may be excluded by an AI voice assistant that fails to recognize or respond adequately to specific speech patterns or accents.

The potential of artificial intelligence to revolutionize industries, improve efficiency, and enhance human experiences is undeniable. Yet, as we embrace these powerful tools, we must recognize the necessity of continuous research, development, and responsible implementation. Ethical considerations, privacy concerns, and biases embedded within algorithms demand human intervention and oversight to guarantee accountable and inclusive deployment.


Maggie Vaughan, CPACC
Content Marketing Practitioner