Artificial Intelligence and Workers With Disabilities


According to the World Bank, about 15% of the world’s population experience some form of disability. These range from physical and learning disabilities to chronic medical illnesses that impair functioning in several ways. The effects of disability on the quality of the lives of those affected includes lower socio economic status due to loss of occupation, poverty and as a result, poorer outcomes for overall health. People with disabilities are far less represented in labor and experience high rates of unemployment when compared with other people. Despite provisions made to secure the rights of the disabled, they continue to face challenges as members of the workforce. Statistics show that:

1. About two-thirds of those within working age are outside the labor force

2. When employed, people with disabilities are likely to be confined to lower paying industries and jobs

3. On the path to joining the labor force, people with disabilities face more barriers to education than the general population and are at higher risk for unemployment.

4. Women and other minorities with disabilities are particularly more affected and carry a double burden of disadvantage 

Promoting Inclusion with Artificial Intelligence

Inclusion of people with disabilities in the labor force should thus be prioritized in order to improve the quality of life and preserve the opportunity for independence and self actualization. 

The possible roles for artificial intelligence in this regard have been explored in recent times. Artificial intelligence systems are being used to enhance accessibility for disabled workers which can also be tailored to meet a worker’s specific needs. These applications add value to the lives of disabled people by enabling communication with others, navigating through physical spaces and providing access to public services. Some of the possible roles for AI include:

Visual aid: The development of apps such as SeeingAI which are able to scan and speak text for visually impaired people. In the workplace, this can help workers to read and respond to hand-written messages or instructions from others. This can also be applied beyond just text to identifying colors, currencies and describing the facial cues of others. With time, such designs may be able to provide information about the physical environment and describe features in the surroundings

Movement support: Tools have also been developed to overcome motility problems by allowing users to operate their devices with eye movement. Workers unable to make precise movements can nevertheless operate gadgets using subtle movements. 

Security accessibility: The use of passwords can be replaced with iris scans and facial recognition techniques and improving access for those with reading, spelling and other learning disabilities. This provides access to security features.

Auditory support: Workers with speech impairments can use apps which use machine learning to detect abnormalities in pronunciation and articulation overtime. This information can then be used to correct distorted speech and make the users become comprehensible to others.

Closed Captions: AI can also be used to create  closed captions for deaf users by using lip reading algorithms. Several such systems have been developed and are able to even out perform human controls during testing. 

Ethical Implications

It is worthy of note that AI systems must be ethically designed to avoid biases that may lead to further disadvantage against disabled people. Concerns about the possibility that AI may affect the hiring and evaluation of disabled workers have been justified by hiring systems which screen out disabled applicants due to existing biases. Because of this, several organizations have pointed out the need for responsible use of AI in employment as performance monitoring. Contrary to popular opinion, innovations to improve accessibility for disabled workers cost less than most employers think, with about 59% of accommodations costing nothing at all.  To record success with the use of AI in improving the work lives of disabled people, careful and intentional application of helpful innovations must be ensured and fairness must be prioritized to guarantee that AI system will constitute an aid, rather than become a threat to the work lives of disabled people. 


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