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Leveraging artificial intelligence for accessibility solutions focus of Microsoft India's Accessibility Summit

The two-day Accessibility Summit - Empowering for Inclusion, hosted by Microsoft India in partnership with the National Association of the Deaf and National Centre for Promotion of Employment of Disabled People (NCPEPD) saw multiple stakeholders come together on one platform to talk about inclusive technologies, accessibility standards, highlight assistive technology solutions as well as discuss how policy can help make accessible India a reality.

From people with disabilities to assistive technology developers, service providers, business leaders and policy makers, the summit was an opportunity for voices from across the disability spectrum to be heard.

Shakuntala D Gamlin, Secretary, Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, said a strong public-private partnership could go a long way in empowering disabled people with equal access and opportunity.

The conference saw an interesting mix of master classes as well as access to Microsoft's AI for Accessibility resources for the developer community with a showcase of inclusive technology. There were master classes on subjects like digital accessibility as well as ways to power inclusion with accessibility under CSR.

Speaking at the CSR masterclass, disability rights activist and social entrepreneur Ankit Rajiv Jindal said, "There is a need to build a pipeline of people in CSR who can focus on accessibility and create an accessible ecosystem".

This is vital to provide empowering the disabled community, emphasized Arman Ali, Executive Director, NCPEDP. "Without access, you cannot provide education and employment. There is a big need to create awareness on accessibility and remove all barriers".

The showcase featured technology-based projects from NGOs, as well as assistive technologies developed by top technology companies, Microsoft partners as well as Microsoft solutions.

In 2018, Microsoft launched its five-year $25 million AI for Accessibility program that aims to utilize the power of AI to strengthen human capability for the over one billion people with disabilities across the world. Cloud and AI-based solutions like real time speech-to-text transcription, computer vision capabilities and predictive text functionality are empowering disabled people with the means to support independence and productivity.

At Microsoft, we believe there are no limits to what people can achieve when technology reflects the diversity of everyone who uses it. - Sriram Rajamani, Managing Director, Microsoft Research India

There was also much reflection on the role companies can play in creating an eco-system to encourage accessibility. Dr Meenu Bhambhani, Vice President & Head - Corporate Social Responsibility at Mphasis used the example of her organization's partnership with Uber in the launch of uberASSIST, which provide additional assistance to seniors and people with disabilities. "Technology does not always need to be developed by us, it is always better to partner with existing players", said Bhambhani at a session.

By bringing together people from diverse backgrounds, the second edition of the Microsoft India summit helped bring forth inspiring stories, innovative products and insightful discussions.

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