Many people fear being ‘left behind’ by new technology. Automation and Artificial Intelligence, in particular, have the potential to disrupt society and the economy on a massive scale. How can we ensure there are as few ‘losers’ from this process as possible? And that the gains are not distributed in a way that entrenches existing inequalities even further?

Debating Europe recently attended an event on A.I. and accessibility in the European Parliament, co-hosted by the European Disability Forum and Google. The event follows on-going discussions between the EDF and Google on future-proofing new technologies to embrace human diversity, and we interviewed some of the participants on exactly this topic. What would they say?

Curious to know more about some of the new technologies benefiting people with disabilities? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).

What do our readers think? We had a comment from Cyril, who thinks it’s always important to consider carefully how individuals (as well as society as a whole) will benefit from new technologies. So, looking specifically at Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, how will it benefit individuals with disabilities?

To get a reaction, we spoke to Michal Waltner, Campus Tel Aviv Program Manager at Google. What would she say?

Next up, we had a comment from Joanna, who is worried that online technologies are more accessible than real-world premises. Could technologies such as virtual reality and online shopping make it easier for people to stay indoors, therefore reducing the pressure to improve accessibility in the real world? Will technology just make it easier to ignore people with disabilities?

We also had a question from Ronny, who wanted to know if many of the claims about artificial intelligence are just ‘science fiction’, or if they can really be implemented. We put this question to Humberto Insolera, who is on the Executive Committee of the European Disability Forum. What would he say?

How will technology benefit individuals with disabilities? Is there a risk technology will just make it easier to ignore people with disabilities, or will it give people greater autonomy and freedom? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: (c) – diego cervo
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12 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Mindaugas Valentukevicius

    Well, hopefully it will eliminate their disabilities – cure the blind, the crippled and any other forms of disability. At least that’s what technology should do – contribute to building an enhanced, healthy society. And if it can’t directly convert the disabled to …abled?… it should at least make them have the same opportunities and comforts as the …abled?… human beings. Unless of course technology is strongly influenced only by the private sector, of which the sole purpose is to make profit, then they are unlikely to receive much because they are a minority and profit can be best made for a majority. This implies that at the very least for any significant contribution for the cause of the disabled, a public-private partnership should be carried out. Well, these are for the normal disabilities… if you actually believe the european union is functional, or that the euro is a good reserve currency, or that the continuous braindrain of less economically developed countries in the union for the exchange of some small trinket subsidies is a net benefit – well,…. not even the best technology is going to save you from your true mental disabilities.

    • avatar

      This… now this is utopian, eh! We should not be talking of “converting” people – that is dangerous! And the idea of “eliminating their disabilities”. I really think that is science fiction…

  2. avatar

    I think VR will really benefit the disabled. Facebook is investing big bucks in this, and it’s clear they think the future of social media will be VR. Shopping, entertainment, social – everything will be VR! The key is ensuring that everybody has access to this technology, so that e.g. blind / deaf users can also gain the benefits (e.g. 3d audio with positional tracking).

  3. avatar
    Bruno Bacqué

    I hope it makes accessibility technology we already have less expensive!!!

  4. avatar
    Kristin P.

    Interesting. I would not be surprised if technology further creates divides and inequality. AI is anyway going to be disruptive, and so it makes sense the most vulnerable in society (including disabled) will be the most disrupted.

    07/05/2018 Andrus Ansip, European Commissioner for the Digital Single Market and Vice President of the European Commission, has responded to this comment.

    07/05/2018 Professor Nick Bostrom, Director at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute and Director of the Governance of Artificial Intelligence Program, has responded to this comment.

  5. avatar

    accessability should be mandatory on all websites

  6. avatar
    Sean Burke

    Augmented reality could eb a game changer. Imagine being a deaf person and having a pop-up in your glasses alerting you of what noises are in your environment? Maybe even translating noises in real time for you. Or imagine being blind or partially sighted and receiving audio descripitions of what’s around you. Exciting stuff.

  7. avatar

    Obviously technology is going to bring enormous benefits as well as enormous challenges. But if existing laws on accessibility were applied and followed properly, then it would already make a huge positive difference.

  8. avatar
    Pete Crampton

    How will technology benefit individuals with disabilities? The same way it benefits everybody; life will be faster, more efficient, more convenient and cheaper.

    • avatar
      Julia Renolds

      Speak for yourself.

      My experience is that technology makes life

      – more wasteful,
      – more polluting,
      – more expensive,
      – less about (real world, meanigful) relationships with family,
      – less about (real world, meaningful) relationships with friends

  9. avatar
    JT HK

    Disabled persons should be given full sponsorship of equipment and medical treatment to help overcome physical disabilities. This is essential secure the equal rights for citizens so that they can have the chance to compete more or less equally. This is how technology should be used apart from making war. Anyway, military technology civilian use would start a virtuous cycle benefiting the whole human race. The US rapid decline is because it is too selfish to conceal military technology so as to sustain its super military power. As a consequence, we have recently witnessed the third failing trial of the US moon rocket albeit the country had already successfully landed the moon 5 decades ago>>…/nasa-delays-artemis-1…

    • avatar
      JT HK

      Does this demonstrating that the US does not fail in technological issues and weather forecast as well?

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