Three Ways AI Supports People with Disabilities in the Workplace

Published March 9, 2023

The hot topic of Artificial Intelligence is becoming increasingly popular as ChatGPT continues to surprise the world with its impressive abilities. ChatGPT is OpenAI’s trained language model that communicates conversationally. Although the impact of this technology on the corporate world isn't yet clear, AI has inarguably been rapidly changing the way we work for a while now. While some changes due to AI cause controversy, many of its benefits are cause for celebration.  
 
For one, AI is helping workforces to become more inclusive. It’s responsible for creating new and better employment opportunities for people with disabilities.  

“ChatGPT and other emerging AI applications can definitely have a positive impact on accessibility, as long as developers and other users of the technology leverage AI in an intentional and inclusive way,” said Art Morgan, Head of Product for Education & Government. 

When it comes to these AI-focused tools, how humans use them will be a major determining factor in their true impact. It’s clear that in some cases, these tools are elevating employees, helping them to work more efficiently and eliminating obstacles.  
 
Here are three ways that AI-based technologies, including automatic speech recognition (ASR), visual description software and the inescapable ChatGPT, can contribute toward more inclusive environments and support employees with disabilities, among others.  

Voice-to-text technology 

ASR presents a number of business and daily life use cases. In fact, many people now use these tools without even thinking about it. For instance, Alexa, Siri and other voice assistants rely on ASR. The tools that transcribe voicemails to make them quick and easy to scan use ASR as well.  

Importantly, ASR is also supporting workplace accessibility initiatives, including generating captions for content and events. Offering captions is an increasingly popular way to connect team members and account for the needs of those with disabilities. ASR often comes built-in to web conferencing platforms like Zoom, where it captions virtual meetings, webinars and in-person events. However, ASR-based tools, especially the free, built-in ones, have some limitations. They often incorrectly interpret speech and display inaccuracies which can affect intelligibility or worse.  

Accessibility laws create strict expectations for accuracy because flawed captions can leave people who are Deaf and hard of hearing without access to important information. Delivering inequitable experiences to these team members or audiences can result in accessibility lawsuits and harm a company’s reputation.  
 
Luckily, when applied correctly, ASR can assist with captioning without compromising the results. Verbit, a company that serves as an accessibility partner for businesses worldwide, uses ASR to initially produce captions for clients. Unlike built-in ASR, Verbit then offers a layer of human editing. 

“AI gives Verbit a great starting point, helping us extract meaning from audio and video sources. We then take it the “last mile,” turning those results into accessible formats and insights that are most useful for a particular individual or group of people,” said Morgan. 
 
In essence, Verbit leverages the efficiency of AI-based speech-to-text tools while also leaning on humans for editing. This hybrid approach is often the best option for companies that want to be accessible.  

Tools to help people who are blind 

AI is also helping support individuals who are blind or have low vision. Microsoft’s Seeing AI is an excellent example of how AI can improve workplace experiences for these employees. The tool is an app that describes nearby surroundings and individuals. For instance, Seeing AI can identify coworkers in a room and let users know if the person is smiling. Additionally, the technology can scan documents and read them aloud. This feature is important anytime a person comes across an inaccessible document, such as a printed form or even a handwritten note.  

Additionally, audio description, for example, is another tool that helps individuals with vision loss consume content in the workplace and elsewhere. Audio description can make training videos, town halls and presentations accessible for people who are blind or have low vision. While audio description is only starting to catch on in many environments, in broadcast media, it’s becoming more common. Proposed new laws could also make it mandatory in other settings. Audio description can help improve access when something like Seeing AI isn’t enough.  

ChatGPT and accessibility  

ChatGPT is causing a stir for its ability to write impressive responses to prompts. For instance, users can type questions, and within seconds, the AI generates answers using information from across the Internet. In general, the responses are well-written, although they can include troubling factual inaccuracies. Use cases include streamlining the content production process, performing research and much more. Some initial reports even indicate that the tool will bring about the end of Google’s dominance as a search engine by replacing the platform with a faster way to deliver answers. Many also tout this technology as a disruptive game changer for the corporate world. However, fewer are noting its potential for boosting accessibility.  

One area where the tool shows promise is in helping people overcome communication barriers related to their disabilities. For example, it can support professionals with limited speech and mobility-related disabilities. It can take these individuals significantly more time to write emails and other communications than it would someone without those disabilities. As a result, their work takes more time, and they may shorten responses, leaving out some unnecessary platitudes. The last thing any employee would want is to come off “short” to colleagues, especially if that wasn’t their intention. With ChatGPT, the same professional can use their shortened prompt to quickly produce an email that includes polite or longer language without the extra time and effort related to their other methods of communicating.  

Additionally, the technology could be combined with screen readers to help people who can’t speak communicate better and faster. Advanced chatbot technology is still rather new but already shows great potential as a tool for people with disabilities.  

Bringing AI to work 

Without a doubt, AI and machine learning can cause mixed feelings for many employees. However, it’s worth noting that AI is just a tool, and what it accomplishes will depend on who’s holding and applying it. Rather than being fearful of AI removing roles and responsibilities, it should be looked at as a way to offer more inclusive experiences and help with task efficiency.  
 
Hopefully, as these innovations continue to evolve, the engineers creating them will make the solutions themselves accessible while also identifying ways to apply them to make the world more accessible.  

Verbit, which serves as an accessibility partner for companies across the globe, is embracing AI and ASR tools, developing its own technologies in-house. Learn more about how your company can partner with Verbit to leverage easy-to-use technology to support your team members and audience members with disabilities and deliver more equitable experiences to everyone.  

 

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