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IIT Delhi, Microsoft to hold conference to make accessible assistive technologies for people with disabilities

IIT Delhi says ASSISTECH is an assistive technology laboratory with a focus on development of affordable solutions for mobility and education of the visually impaired

Microsoft India, in partnership with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, will host the second edition of Empower from 14 to 17 October 2019 at I-TEC, IIT Delhi, Sonepat. This conference aims at bringing together researchers, technologists and policymakers to discuss actionable steps in creating and making available assistive technologies and highlight the challenges in doing so. Stakeholders from the entire ecosystem, Disabled Persons’ Organizations (DPOs) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) will also participate in the conference.

Prof. M Balakrishnan, the founder of ASSISTECH and professor, CSE Department, IIT Delhi, said: “We believe that integration of differently-abled people should be an important goal for any society and for that providing them equal opportunities in mobility and education is critical. Using assistive technologies, we can help empower them to be a part of the societal progress. Through this conference, we aim to address the challenges faced by people with disabilities and bring together all researchers, industries, users and user organizations involved in the creation, production and dissemination of assistive technology solutions.”

ASSISTECH, an Assistive Technology laboratory with a focus on the development of affordable solutions for mobility and education of the visually impaired was founded nearly ten years ago. The laboratory has developed many solutions that have reached the end-users. SmartCaneTM is being used by over 70,000 blind people in India and 22 other countries. Raised Lines Foundation, incubated in the lab is producing tactile books for hundreds of blind children who want to pursue STEM education. Devices and solutions from the laboratory include DotBookTM – the first Indian Braille laptop and OnBoardTM a device that can help blind people to board public buses independently.

Empower focuses on reaching communities with different abilities to focus on researchers and technologists presenting solutions and ideas to empower them. Over the four days, the conference will feature various sessions including workshops and seminars to discuss the depth and breadth of disability and assistive technologies. The event will also include a keynote session “Empowering for Inclusion” by Dr. Sriram Rajamani, distinguished scientist and managing director, Microsoft Research. It will also showcase key assistive technology solutions like the spatial audio toolkit for an immersive exploration of games and virtual environments.

Speaking on this, Dr. Manohar Swaminathan, principal researcher, Microsoft Research (MSR) said: “At Microsoft Research India we have developed AI and ML technologies that can be deployed in low-resource environments. These include Embedded ML libraries which can enable the community of designers to leverage the power of AI and ML to enhance the life of people with disabilities in India. We believe that the conference will provide a fertile ground for innovation by connecting such tools with designers of assistive technologies in confluence with people with disabilities who need such solutions.”

Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility is a 5 year, USD25 million program that harnesses the power of AI to amplify human capability for the more than 1 billion people around the world with a disability. AI is now capable of seeing, hearing, and reasoning with increasing accuracy. Real-time speech-to-text transcription, computer vision capabilities, and predictive text functionality are just a few examples of how AI is useful to people with disabilities today.

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