Artificial intelligence technologies have the potential to significantly change the lives of human beings, especially people with disabilities. AI can and has positively impacted the lives of people with disabilities in many ways, but there are concerns about whether businesses and websites using AI remain compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act ( ADA).
What does it mean to be ADA compliant?
The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal civil rights law that aims to help protect people with disabilities by providing them with equitable opportunities. Many things in life are regulated by the ADA, such as buildings and certain websites. In order to be ADA compliant, the technology must be accessible to people with disabilities based on the guidelines of the law. Some companies’ web content must be accessible to those who use a screen reader or other assistive technology.
Is Artificial Intelligence Compliant with ADA Guidelines?
Artificial intelligence is not inherently ADA compliant or not, but how it is used can help or hinder people with disabilities, including those with visual and hearing impairments. When used in the hiring process, apprehension about whether AI enables equal opportunity for applicants with disabilities, based on Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, was examined . On the other hand, AI has proven to be essential in improving the lives and independence of people with disabilities.
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How can artificial intelligence be an obstacle to ADA compliance?
Artificial intelligence is made capable of its many applications through machine learning. This process depends on the training data received by the algorithm. As a general rule, the data is based on the average individual, in which case people with disabilities are not taken into account.
Since AI developments are often designed with the average user in mind, visually and hearing impaired people may be at a disadvantage with some of these technologies. For example, automatic speech recognition systems are typically designed with common speech patterns in mind and are not compatible with speech impediment patterns.
AI’s biggest concern in terms of compliance with ADA guidelines is with companies’ hiring processes. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) expressed concern in its technical assistance document regarding AI tools that can screen applicants with disabilities. When using these AI screening tools, employers must ensure compliance with the ADA.
How can artificial intelligence help people with disabilities?
More often than not, AI seems to be a benefit to people with disabilities rather than a hindrance. AI technology helps people with disabilities interact with their world and environment with greater accessibility. Using virtual assistants helps people with disabilities live with greater independence, such as using a smart home device to easily adjust their environment, such as turning on lights and playing music.
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Many of the inventions we use in the world today were created to help people with disabilities live with fewer restrictions. One of the original typewriter designs was invented to give the inventor’s blind friend the ability to write and the original audio books, called “talking books”, were created so that the visually impaired could explore literature. Creating new AI tools for people with disabilities can lead to inventions that benefit everyone.
Many companies are entering the AI space to develop technologies for communities with disabilities. Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility is designed to innovate with AI and provide grants to companies to create tools for the purpose of independence for people with disabilities. Voiceitt is a machine learning app designed to help people with speech disabilities communicate with their home devices and with other people.
Many AI technologies have even been created to ensure that a website or business remains ADA compliant. These apps and widgets claim to help web content be more accessible to all visitors, even people with disabilities. Some of the guidelines that these programs help achieve a website include:
- Easy navigation, including when using keyboard shortcuts.
- Adjustable web content based on user needs.
- Information presented in a simple and digestible format.
- Understandable information.
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Moreover, this artificial intelligence technology aims to keep websites up to date with the latest guidelines that usually change, helping to avoid unnecessary lawsuits and providing visitors with a positive user experience.
AI for the visually impaired
AI has had a positive impact on accessibility for the visually impaired by helping them interact with a web page or document and navigate through it easily. AI apps and tools were designed to help blind visitors read a document by reformatting text into an audio format and describing images on the page. AI technology can also help the visually impaired by adjusting page elements such as font, colors, and spacing.
AI for people with speech disabilities
Similarly, AI helps people with speech disabilities communicate with others by converting their usual speech into text or audio output. The advantage is that they can use this technology to access services and perform searches on the Internet. AI can also facilitate communication, for example through screen readers on electronic devices and voice command assistants such as Siri.
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Advances in AI have made the internet more accessible to all demographics, even people with disabilities. AI technology is continually being explored to create accessibility in various areas, such as in the classroom and at work.