Birmingham City University (BCU) is working on technology that allows people to code using their voice and eyes with an aim to get more workers with disabilities into the technology sector.
BCU has been given a Microsoft grant to construct a system designed to help individuals experiencing restricted mobility to acquire employment in computer programming and web development.
The grant is a component of the tech giant’s programme ‘AI for Accessibility’, which is currently providing $25m in funding over a term of five years to companies able to use AI to assist the world’s one billion people with disabilities. Other grantees include Zyrobotics and iTherapy.
This particular work may also benefit the UK, filling a gap in digital skills which is set to cost the country’s economy in excess of £140bn in growth over the coming 10 years, according to a Consultancy.uk report released last October.
Research team objectives
Senior Lecturer of Human-Computer Interaction for BCU, Dr Chris Creed is leading the project, and said:
“People who are unable to use a mouse or keyboard can often find themselves excluded from certain technical professions, and we are exploring ways to remove some of those barriers, this is a fantastic opportunity to make certain professions much more inclusive.”
Based at BCUs School of Computing, Dr Creed is a member of a research team presently developing the initial version of the new system. The team’s goal is to make the use of keyboard and mouse null and void. This will be achieved through technology for eye tracking which enables users to select particular sections of code by focusing on it and utilising voice commands to input code. The system will make use of the Microsoft cloud platform Azure, along with Cognitive Services like speech into text.
Independent and government research
Although research has discovered over 800 million people are required to gain new skills to handle their present positions by 2020, and skills shortages cause a negative effect on business according to 40% of company employers, people with disabilities are facing further challenges when entering the workforce.
Government figures suggest 46.3% of those with disabilities of working age are currently in employment, in comparison to 76.4% working age individuals without disabilities. The gap between the two groups represents over 2,000,000 people.
The international consulting firm Accenture has stated that failing to close the digital skills gap within the UK may cost its economy growth to the tune of £141.5bn over the next decade. The Accenture report also suggests the majority of skills required for the UK’s future workplace are gained best by first-hand experience and practice. Learning techniques that are experience-based should therefore be a priority.
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