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Heather Dowdy: The Future of Accessibility Powered by AI

C93a2f095a8dce6dbc3176db3e837db0?s=47 A11YChi
July 18, 2019

Heather Dowdy: The Future of Accessibility Powered by AI

There is a unique opportunity for AI to revolutionize how we think about assistive technology and access to technology for people with disabilities. Learn about the Microsoft AI for Accessibility grant program, Azure cloud technology and the ethical considerations around AI and disability.

About the Speaker

Heather Dowdy is the COO of the Microsoft AI for Accessibility grant program. She leads strategy and business operations to scale the impact of the growing number of AI for Accessibility grantees. With more than a decade of experience developing and demonstrating accessible technology in mobile, web and artificial intelligence, Heather is passionate about using the design thinking process to create solutions that improve usability for everyone.

As the oldest daughter of Deaf parents, Heather is fluent in American Sign Language (ASL). Before relocating to Redmond, she was the Senior Product Manager of Accessibility Engineering at Motorola Mobility in Chicago. Heather has served as Chair of the Accessibility Working Group (AWG) of the Mobile Manufacturers’ Forum (MMF) and Chair of the Board of Directors of the World Institute on Disability. A strong believer in empowering communities through education and benevolence, she is the co-founder of Microsoft Ninja Camp, focused on STEM leadership training for high school students with disabilities. Heather obtained her Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A native Chicagoan, she can now be found exploring the beauty of the Pacific Northwest with her husband and three young children. Heather also enjoys reading, journaling, and interacting with different cultures while traveling abroad.



July 18, 2019


  1. The Future of Accessibility: Powered by AI

  2. Agenda • • •

  3. Born to be an Ally

  4. My Professional Journey

  5. What's Next: Cycle of Innovation Human need Technology innovation Progress

  6. Accessibility is a human imperative 1+ billion people have disabilities,

    many of whom lack access to: Only 1 in 10 have access to the products needed. • Education. 20% of adults with disabilities have less than a 9th grade education, as compared to 8% of adults without a disability. There has been little to no change in inclusive educational placement practices for students with intellectual and multiple disabilities in the past 10 years. • Employment. People with disabilities are 2x as likely to be unemployed compared to those without a disability. And currently, 80% of people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder are unemployed. And disability is something that can affect any of us at any time *Source: World Health Organization
  7. AI is technology that can perceive, learn, and reason to

    extend the capabilities of people and organizations Image recognition Speech recognition Natural language interaction
  8. Vision Speech Language 2016 2017 January 2018 March 2018 Microsoft

    AI breakthroughs Speech Language We were the first to reach parity with humans in object recognition, speech recognition, machine translation and machine reading comprehension. Bill Gates created Microsoft Research over 25 Years ago
  9. Innovation Onscreen keyboard Word Prediction Magnification Need Innovation Progress

  10. Seeing AI Harness the power of AI to describe people,

    text and objects Short Text Speaks text as soon as it appears in front of the camera https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/ai/seeing-ai Color Describes the perceived color + Person + Scene + Currency + Light + Documents + Products
  11. Seeing AI

  12. Live captions and subtitles in PowerPoint Displays live, subtitled speech

    in 10+ spoken languages Shows built-in captions/subtitles on the screen in one of 60+ written languages Product
  13. Video and audio transcription Automated transcription services using AI technology

    Automated transcripts While viewing a video or listening to an audio file, a full transcript will show directly in the viewer Supports over 320 different file types Product
  14. Learning Tools and Editor – 2015 Hackathon Winner Built into

    Office 365 to improve reading and writing Improve reading skills Learning Tools help to improve reading skills by assisting decoding, fluency, and comprehension. Write with more confidence Editor helps people write easy-to-read content by reducing the energy spent on tasks like spelling and grammar Product
  15. Chicago + Microsoft Partnerships for Accessibility UIUC Lighthouse for Digital

    Accessibility G3ict and City of Chicago for smart city digital inclusion pilot
  16. Empowering every person and every organization on the planet to

    achieve more
  17. Values AI needs to respect Fairness Reliability Privacy Inclusiveness Transparency

  18. How do WE want the world to look in 5

    years? Learn More aka.ms/AIforAccessibility
  19. AI for Good Earth Accessibility Humanitarian Action

  20. Zyrobotics Video

  21. AI for Accessibility: Focus areas Employment Daily Life Communication and

  22. Program overview Technology Knowledge Partnership | AI for Accessibility

  23. Types of Grants

  24. Grant selection criteria Developed with or by people with disabilities

    Relevance: Impact: Data: Feasible and Sustainable: Capable: Showcase:
  25. Employment The Frist Center for Autism and Innovation at Vanderbilt

    University is developing conversational tools that provide people with autism job interview training through meaningful interactions.
  26. Daily Life

  27. Azure and the AI for Accessibility Grantees Learn More aka.ms/AIforAccessibility

  28. How do WE want the world to look in 5

    years? Learn More aka.ms/AIforAccessibility
  29. How do YOU want the world to look in 5

    years? Learn More aka.ms/AIforAccessibility
  30. Employment In the US, the unemployment rate for people with

    disabilities (81%) is more than double that of individuals without a disability (34%).* In Brazil, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 76.4%, or 35.4 million people.**
  31. Employment Use AI to help people develop more advanced skills

    in the workplace and evolve the culture around inclusive hiring.
  32. Daily Life Technology is not always affordable and is sometimes

    difficult to apply to an individual’s unique scenario.
  33. Daily Life

  34. Communication and Connection Communication is fundamental to providing equal access

    to information and opportunities.
  35. Communication and Connection Modernize the options available for people regardless

    of how they listen, speak, or write.
  36. Ideation Time

  37. Resources AI business school Smart Cities for All Toward Fairness

    in AI for People with Disabilities: A Research Roadmap 2019 BUILD Conference Highlights AURC Disability Answer Desk
  38. Contact us Apply now! Aka.ms/grant Questions? Email us at ai4aques@Microsoft.com

    Visit us online Aka.ms/aiforaccessibility Explore Azure with a free account Portal.azure.com Apply now and mention“ChiA11y”! Aka.ms/grant
  39. Appendix

  40. Azure AI Services: Pre-Built https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/cognitive-services/welcome Vision Speech Knowledge Search Language

  41. Azure AI Services: Custom

  42. Azure AI Services: Conversational Bot Service