Above: Google Maps: Wheelchair accessibility Today marks the seventh Global Accessibility Awareness Day, a celebration of inclusion and digital access for people with disabilities. Microsoft took the opportunity to unveil the Xbox Adaptive Controller, a gaming controller designed to accommodate a range of special needs, and Apple announced that its Everyone Can Code curricula for the Swift programming language will come to schools with vision- and hearing-impaired students.

Neither of those announcements has much to do with artificial intelligence, but increasingly, tech firms are enlisting the help of AI to build accessible, inclusive products. Last week, Microsoft committed $25 million to its AI for Accessibility program with the aim to “assist people with disabilities with work, life, and human connections,” and Facebook recently said it’s collecting data from disabled users to inform its design decisions.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Already, text-to-speech and object recognition AI is improving the lives of the more than roughly 40 million people in the U.S. with eyesight and speech problems. And in the not-too-distant future, self-driving cars will afford house- and wheelchair-bound folks the freedom to travel without the assistance of a caregiver, friend, or family member — some for the first time in their lives.

Smart home speakers like Google Home, Amazon’s Echo series, and Apple’s HomePod have given digital voice assistants a new lease on life — and they aren’t just a lazy way to queue up your favorite podcasts. For people with certain disabilities, they’re a godsend.

“The Echo Dot makes me feel included,” Ellie Southwood, chair at The Royal National Institute of the Blind, said at TechShare Pro, a U.K.-based conference focused on AI, disability, and inclusive design, held in November 2017. “I spend far less time searching for things online; I can multitask while online and be more.” When paired with smart home appliances, smart home speakers become even more powerful. Read more from venturebeat.com…

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