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Can AI be used to help people with disabilities? Experts say yes, with the ‘right data set’

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WATCH: ChatGPT has the world buzzing about its ability to answer questions and write text in seconds, but educators are raising red flags about students potentially using it to cheat. – Jan 23, 2023

Artificial intelligence (AI) is carving its way into modern society more and more every day. And, not everything about it is scary — for those with a disability, certain technologies may be used to help make life a little easier, according to some experts.

“The good thing about AI is that it can really bring out the best of (us) if we have the right data set,” said Erya Abraham, CEO and founder of tech company Lisnen, which uses technology to aid the deaf and hard of hearing.

Lisnen is a software application designed to automate listening by notifying users of sounds, including fire alarms and door knocks, through a smart device.

“I’m somebody with hearing loss and I saw a little gap in using artificial intelligence for people with disability,” she said.

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“I think it’s all about enabling and giving (people with a disability) the opportunity to actively participate in society,” she said.

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Waterloo teacher shares her story of acceptance, perseverance and empowerment in her hearing loss

Like Abraham, some companies, including Uinclude, are also creating “remarkable” AI technology to help fill the gap in the industry for those with a disability.

Uinclude is an AI tool for finding bias in a job description that, according to Abraham, “looks for keywords, sentences and phrases that might stop somebody with a disability from applying because there is terminology that can be discriminating.”

“People don’t want to disclose (if they have a disability) because they don’t want it to have an impact.”

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The tool uses algorithms to help employers incorporate language that is “inclusive and inviting for people of all backgrounds into their recruitment material,” according to Uinclude‘s website.

“Hidden biases in job ads can discourage capable and talented candidates from applying for a role they are perfect for,” the company’s website says. “Our algorithms help you construct recruitment material that is filled with language empirically shown to be inviting for marginalized groups.”

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Another tool called Cognixion allows people with limited mobility and speaking capability to have conversations using a headset that understands what they want to say.

“Using brain waves and understanding the brain function (and giving) somebody the power and tool to be able to communicate, I think, is really remarkable,” said Abraham.

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Bronwyn Hemsley, head of speech pathology at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, also sees the potential in using AI technology to aid those with a disability.

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“What about people with disability who are disadvantaged with getting a job interview, disadvantaged with having a level playing field because of their writing, spelling or grammar? What if this (AI) could be the polishing they need done,” she said.

Mentioning ChatGPT, an AI chat bot that has recently gone viral, Hemsley noted technology like this may help people expand on short sentences, draft responses to emails, refine the tone of a piece of writing, or get advice on conversation starters.

“There’s no doubt it will be used,” she said. “We need to think about clients, speech pathologists and families of clients (that) benefit from it.”

Adversely, Hemsley also cautioned to be mindful that AI technology like ChatGPT may not always be correct.

Moreover, fast-paced advancements in AI could help misinformation thrive this year, according to the Top Risk Report for 2023, an annual survey from U.S.-based geopolitical risk analysts within the Eurasia Group.

The “weapons of mass disruption” that are emerging from speedy technological innovations “will erode social trust, empower demagogues and authoritarians, and disrupt businesses and markets,” the report published on Jan. 3 said.

“Large language models like GPT-3 and the soon-to-be-released GPT-4 will be able to reliably pass the Turing test—a Rubicon for machines’ ability to imitate human intelligence.”

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Barriers that come with AI advancements

Although artificial intelligence can be used to aid those with a disability, there are still barriers that come with the technology as a whole.

“The big, big issue when it comes to people with disability is having access to data that are representative of people with disability,” said Abraham.

“A lot of people with disability have been excluded from society today. We’re not able to participate and the data needed for artificial intelligence needs historic information. If you don’t have access to different perspectives, it (becomes) really challenging for a system to be built efficiently.”

To change this, Abraham would like to start seeing people with disability included at the “forefront” of the industry. 

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“We can do better. If we can realize that we can bring out the best within our AI systems, then we definitely have a path forward to be inclusive,” she said.

A lot of the time with AI, context related to disability has a “negative connotation,” Abraham said.

“That comes from the bias of the system and that bias is reflective of our society,” she said.

“We have to deal with society’s barriers, mindsets and biases that are preventing people to get into those rooms in the first place.”

Hemsley would also like to see people with disabilities included in the conversation “from the very beginning.”

“They have a different life experience. I think until you lose that ability … you don’t realize the communication partners need to make so many adjustments,” she said.

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Additionally, she would like to see increased accessibility to technology for those with a disability.

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“People with disability, they need the funding for the internet and a computer,” she said.

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