Corporate Content

Creating a Better Workplace and World for People with Disabilities

December 3, 2018


“You don’t need eyesight to have vision.”

That is the mantra of Erich Manser, a visually impaired member of the IBM Accessibility Research team. The group is focused on developing and improving technologies that remove obstacles and create better experiences for the estimated 1 billion people in the world with some kind of disability.

On this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, an annual observance by the United Nations, teams across IBM are calling attention to both the challenges faced by, and the new opportunities available to, people with visual impairment, the deaf and hard of hearing community and people with learning and physical disabilities.

IBM is developing and exploring a range of technologies—from accessible transportation to a cognitive mobile application for the visually impaired—that aim to be more human, empathetic and adaptive to everyone’s age and ability.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence increasingly are being embedded within these solutions to bring new capabilities to people with disabilities. For example, IBM Content Clarifier summarizes, augments and analyzes text for people with learning disabilities and on the autism spectrum. Content Clarifier was demonstrated on November 30 at the FCC’s Forum on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in Washington, D.C.

IBM Teacher Advisor with Watson applies machine learning to help teachers develop more effective personalized instruction for students with learning and attention issues. The National Center for Learning Disabilities is working with the IBM Foundation to create custom math modules using Teacher Advisor with Watson for grade school education.

AI Fairness for People with Disabilities

One of IBM’s latest initiatives involves understanding and promoting fairness in the AI models used to support business workflows and decisions for things such as loan applications. AI fairness for people with disabilities was the subject of a workshop at the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab on October 4 in Cambridge, Mass. And IBM researcher Shari Trewin has just published a paper on the subject, “AI Fairness for People with Disabilities: Point of View.”

IBM also offers a range of accessibility solutions and best practices that make it easier for designers, developers and testers to speed development efforts and help conform to industry accessibility standards.

People across IBM are focused on making technology more accessible and helpful to people with disabilities. Manser helped kick-start a group of IBM volunteers, called Team Able, each of whom has some type of disability, that offers feedback on technology tools developed by IBM and more broadly.

The theme of the 2018 International Day of Persons with Disabilities is “empowering persons with disabilities and insuring inclusiveness and equality.” Here are some online resources that support those goals.