Artificial intelligence (AI) 's recent emergence has revolutionized how we interact with technology. AI has been making our lives easier and more efficient in many ways for quite some time. And recently, it's been receiving a lot of attention as new uses have become more available to consumers.
However, as with any technological advancement, ensuring everyone can benefit from its advantages is important. This is where accessible design comes in.
Understanding accessible design
Accessible design is an approach that prioritizes creating resources, content, and technology that is usable and functional for everyone, including individuals with disabilities. When only some people have access to technology and the benefits that come with it, it adds to the inequalities that already exist in our society and puts certain groups of people at a disadvantage.
For example, smartphones are almost essential devices for most people these days. They facilitate communication and provide access to essential information and services. But several individuals may not be able to use them were it not for the accessibility features that are built in.
Eyes-free control, screen reading functions, and customizable settings help ensure more people can benefit from what smartphones offer. Whereas once, users may have had to find unique ways to overcome barriers presented by their devices, it's becoming more common for designs to do the work to prevent those barriers from even arising.
Understanding artificial intelligence
AI refers to computer systems that can perform tasks that typically require human intelligence. Using it, we can make digital tools that recognize speech, translate languages, and recommend based on the information they are given.
AI has the potential to automate repetitive, time-consuming tasks, which could give humans more time and space to focus on more complex, creative, and engaging work or other pursuits.
The importance of accessible design in the age of AI
As the applications of AI become more expansive, accessible design is more important than ever. AI has the potential to make development pipelines more efficient, making it easier to develop technology that is usable for everyone. It powers digital assistants like Siri and Alexa, which help facilitate accessibility. It can speed up the process of creating captions, making it easier for more content creators to provide them.
AI is only as valuable as the data it relies on to function, and biased data can lead to assumptions, decisions, and practices, all of which could impact design outcomes. And, of course, as it helps speed up the development process and, in turn, the speed at which technology continues to evolve, new accessibility issues will arise and must be addressed.
If designers and developers don't prioritize accessible design, there is a risk that new barriers could accumulate at an accelerated rate.
How to address accessible design in the age of AI
So what can we do to ensure that the impact of AI remains more positive than negative in the context of accessibility?
One technical strategy is to improve the datasets used to educate AI to ensure they perform tasks and provide information with accessibility in mind. And when designing and developing AI-powered tools, complying with digital accessibility standards, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), should be just as much of a priority as with any other digital resource or content.
But even more importantly, people with disabilities need to be involved in the process. Ensuring that diverse needs are considered during the design and development process requires insight and expertise from diverse people.
Continuing to work on increasing awareness among developers and designers about the needs of individuals with disabilities can also help ensure that they are represented among users and contribute to furthering the cultural shifts needed in society overall. And enforcing existing laws and regulations and developing new ones that mandate digital accessibility can help hold the creators of technology accountable and encourage those cultural shifts.
Accessible design is important to ensure that everyone can benefit from the advantages of technology, especially as AI becomes more prevalent and advanced. AI has the potential to both improve and harm accessible design, and several challenges need to be addressed to create technology that is usable for everyone.
By developing AI systems and tools with accessibility in mind, increasing awareness about the needs of individuals with disabilities, and enforcing laws and regulations, we can keep technology accessible to everyone as it continues to evolve.