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How will tech and AI pave the way for a more inclusive world?

Nurdianah Md Nur
Nurdianah Md Nur • 5 min read
How will tech and AI pave the way for a more inclusive world?
Huawei’s partners, including SG Enable, provided youths with tips on developing effective digital solutions for people with disabilities at the recent Tech4City Dialogue. Photo: Huawei
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Isn’t it frustrating when a mobile app isn’t user-friendly? This is a daily reality for people with sensory disabilities. As technology becomes more widespread, ensuring everyone can access digital solutions is crucial.

“While we are seeing progress, many websites, mobile apps, videos, and documents are typically still not as accessible to persons with disabilities as they can be. This can be changed by riding the digital wave and embracing emerging technologies to make digital solutions e-accessible (or electronically accessible),” says Ron Loh, Deputy Chief Executive of SG Enable, the focal agency for disability and inclusion in Singapore.

For instance, organisations can insert accessibility widgets into their websites to allow users to change the text size on the page or activate the page’s high-contrast mode and add captions to videos to make them more accessible.

“Disabilities can affect anyone (including when people age), and e-accessibility features, like captioning YouTube videos, can improve the user experience of digital products. By investing in e-accessibility, businesses [will be able to reach a wider audience as more people can] access their digital products, services, and experiences,” adds Loh.

The role of AI

Artificial intelligence (AI) is key to building a more inclusive digital world. Loh explains: “AI can be transformative in empowering the independent living and employment journey of persons with disabilities. Tasks previously challenging for persons with disabilities can now be made more accessible with recent innovative AI-driven solutions, such as the AiSee prototype.”

See also: Empowering Singaporean youths to be social changemakers with AI

Developed by a team of researchers from the National University of Singapore’s School of Computing, AiSee is a wearable assistive device that helps people with visual impairment ‘see’ objects around them. The AI-powered device extracts features such as text, logos, and labels from the image captured by a micro-camera before analysing them and verbally giving users information on the object.

AI can also lower or even remove barriers to employment, bringing about greater disability inclusion in the workplace. “SG Enable works with partners to [provide] equitable access and opportunities for persons with disabilities. From the recruitment process to enhancing workplace accessibility, we see various ways AI can empower a range of persons with disabilities to perform their jobs independently. For example, AI-powered notetaking functions that provide transcripts in virtual meetings can help people who are deaf or hard of hearing to follow the conversations,” says Loh.

Wanted: AI for inclusivity

See also: How inter-market analysis and market volatility can help traders increase their odds of success

Beyond driving the adoption of e-accessibility practices, SG Enable also encourages co-creating inclusive digital solutions. Loh says: “Partnerships with the industry and the disability community are important for greater collective impact. This is why we set up Communities of Practice to encourage collaborations, and through the Enabling Lives Initiative (ELI) Grant, we bring together people from different sectors to develop sustainable social innovations.”

SG Enable is among the partners of Huawei’s Tech4City 2024 competition, calling for Singapore youths to develop “AI for Inclusivity” and “AI for Sustainability” solutions. Individuals between 18 and 35 can register for the competition in teams of three to six and submit their proposals before June 9. At the recently concluded Tech4City Dialogue, youths heard from expert speakers from SG Enable, Singapore Management University and Singapore International Foundation, had the chance to tour the Enabling Village and attended a Huawei Cloud hands-on course.

The winning team will be awarded the grand prize of $20,000 in cash. Besides that, the top five teams will each receive $2,000 funding to develop their prototype with the support of Huawei and its partners, including SG Enable.

“We are heartened to see that Huawei has introduced the “AI for Inclusivity” category as part of the Tech4City Competition to call for inclusive AI solutions. Such solutions not only benefit persons with disabilities but also everyone because fundamentally, it caters to diversity inherent in any society,” says Loh.

When asked for tips on developing effective digital solutions for people with disabilities, Loh advises innovators to evaluate and understand the user’s needs and considerations, which are different for everyone.

“Digital solutions should start with universal design as a basis, ensuring solutions can be functional for as many people as possible. Then, specialised features can be added or adapted from existing features more easily than niche solutions. Innovators can also refer to our E-Accessibility Playbook for Digital Inclusion, which details the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the world’s most widely accepted framework for e-accessibility standards, for more guidance.”

He pointed out that the four “POUR” principles of WCAG, while usually used to refer to the e-accessibility of websites, could be applied to digital solutions, too. He shared that digital solutions should be:

  • Perceivable: Information should be presented so all users can recognise it using one or more senses.
  • Operable: User interface components and navigation must be usable.
  • Understandable: Users must understand the information and the interface’s operation.
  • Robust: Content must be interpretable by various web browsers and other applications, including assistive technologies.

Maxi Wang, Chief Executive Officer of Huawei International, says: “As we enter the third consecutive year of the Tech4City Competition, we continue our commitment to fostering the co-creation of enabling an inclusive and sustainable Singapore. Through Tech4City and our network of partners such as SG Enable, we’re cultivating a more vibrant ecosystem that empowers young talents to unleash their creativity and innovation to drive positive change and contribute to Singapore’s digital transformation journey.”

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