Ability Summit 2024: Advancing accessibility with AI technology and innovation – The Official Microsoft Blog – Microsoft

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Today we kick off the 14th Microsoft Ability Summit, an annual event to bring together thought leaders to discuss how we accelerate accessibility to help bridge the Disability Divide.

There are three key themes to this year’s summit: Build, Imagine, and Include. “Build” invites us to explore how to build accessibly and inclusively by leaning on the insights of disabled talent. “Imagine” dives into best practices for architecting accessible buildings, events, content and products. And “Include” highlights the issues and opportunities AI presents for creators, developers and engineers.

Katy Jo Wright and Dave McCarthy discuss Katy Jo’s journey living with the complex disability, Chronic Lyme Disease. Get insights from deaf creator and performer Leila Hanaumi; international accessibility leaders Sara Minkara, U.S. Special Advisor on International Disability Rights, U.S. Department of State; and  Stephanie Cadieux, Chief Accessibility Officer, Government of Canada. And we’ll be digging into mental health with singer, actor and mental health advocate, Michelle Williams.

We’ll also be launching a few things along the way.

Advancing accessible technology

Accessible technology is crucial to empowering the 1.3 billion-plus people with disabilities globally. With this new chapter of AI, the possibilities are growing, as is the responsibility to get it right. We are learning where AI can be impactful, from the potential to shorten the gap between thoughts and action, to making it easier to code and create. But there is more to do, and we will continue to leverage every tool in the technology toolbox to advance accessibility.

Today we’ll be highlighting the latest technology and tools from Microsoft to help achieve this goal including:

  • Copilot for Windows, making accessibility easier. Beginning late March 2024, new accessibility skills are being enabled in Windows. Ask Copilot for Windows to launch Live Captions, Narrator and other accessibility features. More: Windows Blog
  • M365 empowering creators to build accessible content. Including Accessibility Assistant, a set of tools to help creators produce accessible content available today in Insider preview for Word and sharing that Outlook and PowerPoint are coming soon! Ales Holecek will also be sharing some examples and early research on neurodiversity and M365 Copilot which reduces time to create content and shortens the gap between thoughts and action.
  • Azure AI for Accessibility, today sharing six new examples including:
    • Seeing AI is now available in an additional 14 languages (total 33) and will be rolling out the latest generative AI models, including richer descriptions of images and chat capability for photos and documents.
    • Azure AI Audio Description solution accelerator, new upcoming solution accelerator that uses Azure GPT-4 Turbo with Vision to describe videos for people who are blind or low vision. WPP will be demonstrating how this works, and the solution accelerator is now open for sign-ups.

Technology can also help tackle long enduring challenges, like finding a cure for ALS (Motor Neuron Disease). With Azure, we are proudly supporting ALS Therapy Development Institute (TDI) and Answer ALS to almost double the clinical and genomic data available for research. In 2021, Answer ALS provided open access to its research through an Azure Data Portal, Neuromine. This data has since enabled over 300 independent research projects around the world. The addition of ALS TDI’s data from the ongoing ALS Research Collaborative (ARC) study will allow researchers to accelerate the journey to find a cure.

We will also be previewing some of our ongoing work to use Custom Neural Voice to empower people with ALS and other speech disabilities to have their voice. We have been working with the community including Team Gleason for some time and are committed to making sure this technology is used for good and plan to launch later in the year.

YouTube Video

Accessibility as a fundamental right

To build inclusively in an increasingly digital world, we need to protect fundamental rights and will be sharing partnerships advancing this across the community throughout the day.

This includes:

  • A discussion with Ilene Arenberg and Tanya Harris on access to competitive integrated employment and economic equity, talking about the workplace and fair compensation.
  • The British Association for Supported Employment (BASE) will share their work to support disabled, neurodivergent and disadvantaged people in the U.K. to find and maintain careers. They have been growing digital skills using Microsoft Teams and community training to modernize the supported employment sector.
  • The Hunger Project will talk about the importance of connectivity as a foundation to accessibility. It is working with community partners in Malawi and around the world to provide access to connectivity and support for accessible spaces, training materials and digital accessibility.
  • Rijksmuseum will discuss their partnership with the blind and low vision community to bring detailed text descriptions to over 1 million pieces of art using Azure AI Computer Vision and Azure OpenAI. This video brings the experience to life.

Next steps, accelerating your accessibility journey

All through the Ability Summit, industry leaders will be sharing their learnings and best practices. Today we are posting four new Microsoft playbooks, sharing our learnings from working on our physical, event and digital environment. This includes a new Mental Health toolkit, with tips for product makers to build experiences that support mental health conditions, created in partnership with Mental Health America.  And “Accessible and Inclusive Workplace Handbook,” with best practices for building an accessible campus from our Global Workplace Services team, responsible for our global building footprint including the new Redmond headquarters campus.

Please join us to watch content on demand via www.aka.ms/AbilitySummit. Technical support is always available via Microsoft’s Disability Answer Desk.  Thank you for your partnership and commitment to build a more accessible future for people with disabilities around the world.

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