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A close up of a drawing by Emma Lawton

AI for a billion people. And an accessible world.

The world of accessibility at Microsoft came alive to me through Saqib’s eyes. Saqib Shaikh is a Seeing AI developer. He is visually impaired. Seeing him use the app as he navigates life left a lasting impression on my mind.

Seeing AI turns the visual world into an audible experience. The app combines the power of the cloud with AI to show what technology can do for people who are blind or have low vision. It’s one of the many things we have done – and are doing every day – for an inclusive world.

Inclusive design begins with our mission to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. Read Aloud helps you hear written text with simultaneous highlights of each word in the Edge browser or in the Microsoft Office suite. Helpicto turns voice commands into images. Microsoft Translator captions conversations real-time, empowering people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Closer home, a cutting-edge deep neural network (DNN)-powered translator for Hindi, Tamil, and Bengali is bridging the digital language divide and making the internet accessible for millions. Microsoft Research India has come up with an AI-powered Interactive Cane that aids people with visual disabilities.

An estimated 1 billion+ people in our world live with some form of disability. And they are more likely to face unfavorable socioeconomic outcomes – less education, poorer health, lower employment levels and higher poverty rates. That’s nearly 15% of the world’s population – and right now, only one in 10 people with disabilities has access to assistive technologies and products. We can’t shy away from this responsibility. Especially when we have the power of AI to make a huge difference.

At Microsoft Build 2018, Satya announced AI for Accessibility. This program will provide grants and support to research organizations, NGOs, and entrepreneurs who are helping people with disabilities fully participate in our society and economy. AI can truly amplify human capability – it can empower people with disabilities with tools that help them live independently and enhance their productivity. It can. And when technology reflects the diversity of everyone who uses it, there are no limits to what people can achieve.

You can learn more about AI for Accessibility here. If there’s one thing you can do right now (and every day), use the Accessibility Checker. Whether you’re in Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, or Visio, make sure you are being inclusive.

Anant Maheshwari is President, Microsoft India.

Photo: The promise of the Emma watch – in Emma Lawton’s handwriting