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AI could help remove barriers for the disabled, UN conference hears

UAE-sponsored discussion focused on how AI can help achieve SDGs for people with disabilities

AI could help remove barriers for the disabled, UN conference hears
AI could support people with disabilities in many ways.

AI could help remove barriers to people with disabilities from participating in their communities, a discussion group at the UN Conference on disabilities has heard.

Dr. Victor Pineda and James Thurston of Smart Cities for All hosted a discussion on the role AI can play in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

AI and machine learning can have an impact across diverse areas such as creating education programs that better meet the needs of people with disabilities, or designing urban environments that are able to accommodate all users equally.

The discussion, which was supported by the UAE government, took place on the side-lines of the 11th Conference of the States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in New York, and was organised by World Enabled and G3ict, the founding groups behind the Smart Cities for All global initiative. It was also supported by the governments of Canada, Singapore, and Denmark, with sponsorship by Microsoft, UN Habitat, the Institute on Disability and Public Policy (IDPP), CBM, and IBM Research.

The event featured experts on artificial intelligence and machine learning, inclusive design, sustainable development, and human rights. The discussion identified policy recommendations and explored collaborative action frameworks for implementing inclusive AI in education, employment, and international development.

"AI has the potential to provide new solutions to more fundamentally weave accessibility and inclusion into the fabric of our lives and society," said Megan Lawrence, Accessibility Technical Evangelist at Microsoft. Microsoft recently announced a ground-breaking program to support AI for Accessibility. "Through AI for Accessibility, we want to amplify human capacity and come together as a community to cultivate intelligent experiences for people with disabilities in employment, modern life, and human connection."

These issue areas relate to supporting the objective Sustainable Development Goal 17 which, in conjunction with CRPD Articles 9 and 32, calls for accessibility and cooperation in revitalizing the Global Partnership on Sustainable Development and financing the 2030 Agenda.

HE Lana Nusseibeh, Permanent Representative from the UAE Mission to the UN provided opening remarks, setting the stage for the expert discussion. Nusseibeh said: "AI and other technologies have an increasingly important role to play - by harnessing these technologies effectively, we have a real shot at implementing the sustainable development goals without leaving persons with disabilities behind."

As an urban planner and as the director of the Inclusive Cities Lab at the Institute of Urban and Regional Development Dr. Victor Pineda provided a guiding framework. "AI can help impact more inclusive urban development. AI and machine learning can dramatically alter the way we build our cities and respond to the diverse lifestyles of people who may prefer to roll instead of walk, hear written communication instead of read it, or conversely see spoken communication instead of hear it," he said.

James Thurston, co-founder of the Smart Cities for All global initiative added: "We are looking to AI and other emerging technologies to have a positive and disruptive effect in many critical areas, including the future of work. City leaders now have an opportunity to explore how AI can improve vocational and educational programs for people with disabilities and how it can facilitate an open and accessible work environment."

Though artificial intelligence presents an as-yet unknown challenge to current digital development policies and inclusion efforts for persons with disabilities and older persons, proactive movement toward inclusive policies and international cooperation on digital development can mitigate or prevent these challenges.

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