4 min read
At Microsoft, we are inspired by how artificial intelligence is transforming organizations of all sizes, empowering them to reimagine what’s possible. AI has immense potential to unlock solutions to some of society’s most pressing challenges.
One challenge is that according to the World Health Association, globally, only 1 in 10 people with a disability have access to assistive technologies and products. We believe that AI solutions can have a profound impact on this community. To meet this need, we aim to democratize AI to make it easier for every developer to build accessibility into their apps and services, across language, speech, and vision.
In view of the upcoming Bett Show in London, we’re shining a light on how Immersive Reader enhances reading comprehension for people regardless of their age or ability, and we’re excited to share how Azure AI is broadly enabling developers to build accessible applications that empower everyone.
Empowering readers of all abilities
Immersive Reader is an Azure Cognitive Service that helps users of any age and reading ability with features like reading aloud, translating languages, and focusing attention through highlighting and other design elements. Millions of educators and students already use Immersive Reader to overcome reading and language barriers.
The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria, New York, brings together an incredible diversity of students with different backgrounds and learning styles. The teachers at The Young Women’s Leadership School support many types of learners, including students who struggle with text comprehension due to learning differences, or language learners who may not understand the primary language of the classroom. The school wanted to empower all students, regardless of their background or learning styles, to grow their confidence and love for reading and writing.
Teachers at The Young Women’s Leadership School turned to Immersive Reader and an Azure AI partner, Buncee, as they looked for ways to create a more inclusive and engaging classroom. Buncee enables students and teachers to create and share interactive multimedia projects. With the integration of Immersive Reader, students who are dyslexic can benefit from features that help focus attention in their Buncee presentations, while those who are just learning the English language can have content translated to them in their native language.
Like Buncee, companies including Canvas, Wakelet, ThingLink, and Nearpod are also making content more accessible with Immersive Reader integration. To see the entire list of partners, visit our Immersive Reader Partners page. Discover how you can start embedding Immersive Reader into your apps today. To learn more about how Immersive Reader and other accessibility tools are fostering inclusive classrooms, visit our EDU blog.
Breaking communication barriers
Azure AI is also making conversations, lectures, and meetings more accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. By enabling conversations to be transcribed and translated in real-time, individuals can follow and fully engage with presentations.
The Balavidyalaya School in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India teaches speech and language skills to young children who are deaf or hard of hearing. The school recently held an international conference with hundreds of alumni, students, faculty, and parents. With live captioning and translation powered by Azure AI, attendees were able to follow conversations in their native languages, while the presentations were given in English.
Engaging learners in new ways
We recently announced the Custom Neural Voice capability of Text to Speech, which enables customers to build a unique voice, starting from just a few minutes of training audio.
The Beijing Hongdandan Visually Impaired Service Center leads the way in applying this technology to empower users in incredible ways. Hongdandan produces educational audiobooks featuring the voice of Lina, China’s first blind broadcaster, using Custom Neural Voice. While creating audiobooks can be a time-consuming process, Custom Neural Voice allows Lina to produce high-quality audiobooks at scale, enabling Hongdandan to support over 105 schools for the blind in China like never before.
“We were amazed by how quickly Azure AI could reproduce Lina's voice in such a natural-sounding way with her speech data, enabling us to create educational audiobooks much more quickly. We were also highly impressed by Microsoft's commitment to protecting Lina's voice and identity.”—Xin Zeng, Executive Director at Hongdandan
Learn how you can give your apps a new voice with Text to Speech.
Making the world visible for everyone
According to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, more than 250 million people are blind or have low vision across the globe. Last month, in celebration of the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Seeing AI, a free iOS app that describes nearby people, text, and objects, expanded support to five new languages. The additional language support for Spanish, Japanese, German, French, and Dutch makes it possible for millions of blind or low vision individuals to read documents, engage with people around them, hear descriptions of their surroundings in their native language, and much more. All of this is made possible with Azure AI.
We are humbled and inspired by what individuals and organizations are accomplishing today with Azure AI technologies. We can’t wait to see how you will continue to build on these technologies to unlock new possibilities and design more accessible experiences. Get started today with a free trial.
Check out our AI for Accessibility program to learn more about how companies are harnessing the power of AI to amplify capabilities for the millions of people around the world with a disability.