Rapid technological change and fresh thinking now fuel the development of artificial intelligence (AI)-powered software applications in industries across America and other countries worldwide. These software applications could help to increase access to job opportunities in high-growth fields, mitigate systemic barriers, and foster inclusion.

This theme especially resonates in 2020 as we commemorate 30 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the upcoming 75th anniversary of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) in October. Technology has rapidly transformed our society during this period, including through the growth of the Internet, expanded wireless communications, and widespread use of mobile devices. The next 30 years can carry forth more technological achievements to further the ADA’s goals for equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency.

In the early to mid-2000s, I had the opportunity to explore AI during my undergraduate and graduate studies in computer science and human-computer interaction (HCI). For my capstone master’s project, I helped develop a prototype for the teacher’s interface for an intelligent tutoring program.

My teammates and I conducted user research on how K-12 teachers approached their instructional activities and employed scaffolding for core skills and concepts to design this prototype. The web-based production version of the cognitive tutor most recently supported learning of math concepts and skills by 300,000 students in 50 U.S. states.

Although ongoing integration of AI into society could create new challenges, these types of emerging efforts under the banner of AI for Good can simultaneously yield new solutions to improve accessibility. These efforts can foster our activities to expand gainful employment opportunities and career pathways for people with disabilities. AI can also offer value for tailoring accommodations, fostering new ways to work, and meeting accessibility goals.

Personalized Accommodations and Supports

AI-powered software could intelligently analyze data on workplace settings (virtual and physical) to produce personalized accommodations and adapted supports for workers with disabilities. This new approach to identify and customize accommodations and supports for workplaces could help boost productivity and performance while strengthening the self-empowerment of workers with disabilities.

AI-embedded software, including data analytics, offers strong potential to improve accessibility for workers with cognitive, sensory, and physical disabilities. It can support tools for physical and virtual workplaces that account for differences in workplace communication, thinking and learning, sensory experiences, and mobility. AI-powered software could also enhance how employers and service providers approach providing supports to increase accessibility in all facets of hiring, recruitment, and career advancement.

Creating New Ways to Work

For instance, employers can integrate new ways to deliver accessible onboarding, on-the-job training and instruction, and guidance for employees on how to perform their jobs to achieve business missions. Employees can connect with intelligent agents on work-provided devices to support problem solving for work tasks and responsibilities. Employee assistance programs could deliver new solutions for assisting work/life balance and providing a range of employment-related supports that ensure access for workers with disabilities.

AI-powered software applications can also enable better ways to align work duties with employees’ talents and skill sets. This avenue especially offers promise to facilitate long-term efforts to drive gainful employment opportunities for people with disabilities that can tap strengths and mitigate challenges. For instance, Customized Employment, an approach to personalizing employment opportunities, may especially benefit from greater use of AI-powered software applications.

Meeting Accessibility Goals

Likewise, AI-powered data analytics may also find a niche in activities to ensure software and hardware for workplaces support key guidelines and standards for accessibility. In the federal government, this pursuit means better ways to ensure our software applications and hardware comply with the requirements of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Businesses may also recognize AI’s utility to drive the adoption of future industry standards for accessibility modeled after the success of the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

I feel heartened by these diverse applications of AI to enhance pathways for people with disabilities to gainful job opportunities and long-term careers in high-growth fields and industries. Applications of AI for Good can help us make real the core goals of the ADA.