Artificial Intelligence Is Providing Special Education Alternatives

AI Tools for Visually Impaired, Hearing Impaired, and people with ASD

Artificial Intelligence is changing the way that we educate our children. In the field of special education, many children with disabilities are currently being underserved in the education system. Their disability often occurs on a spectrum. This means that some children may be more affected by their disability than others. Companies are rethinking the uses of AI-assistants, educational tools, AI-wearables, and robotics to change the lives of children with disabilities. Often, companies are looking at the livelihood of these children with disabilities as a whole. They are addressing issues with the quality of life while addressing the educational needs of these children. The idea is that with improved quality of life, these children might be able to find new educational paths that were not available before to supplement their current classroom education. With improved quality of life, these children might also grow up to lead much more independent lives than before.

AI Tools for the Visually Impaired

According to the World Health Organization, globally, it is estimated that approximately 1.3 billion people live with some form of vision impairment. Out of that 188.5 million people have a mild vision impairment, 217 million have moderate to severe vision impairment and 36 million people are blind. In the U.S., there are about 7.6 million adults with visual impairment while 700K children with visual impairment. Historically, Braille books, where the visually impaired person can feel the dots on a page to read words provided a way to educate millions of visually impaired people around the world. In the U.S. visually impaired children often receive a better education than elsewhere. Even then, with computers, Braille books, and specialized education teachers, the visually impaired student still receive only basic literacy education. Improving the quality of education for these students is the key to help them become job-ready in the future.

With a slew of apps on iPhone or Ipad, children now can use apps such as Speak It!, Read2Go, Dragon Diction, Notability for reading, note-taking, and writing through listening and speaking to these apps. Using Talking Calculator, Visual Manipulatives!, children can now learn to do the math.

These assistive technologies have helped the teachers in the classroom to improve the quality of education for the visually impaired. Using Artificial Intelligence, this assistive technology can be taken to a new level. Wearables such as OrCam’s MyEye can help the visually impaired read books (both texts and pictures), recognize faces, and even distinguishing between products and brands. It empowers the visually impaired to socialize within the communities by enabling them to recognize people. It gives them more mobility by enabling them to recognize traffic signals and street signs. Another type of wearable such as Aira allows connections to human agents who act as visual interpreters for the visually impaired. Microsoft’s free app called Seeing AI allows the visually impaired to recognize faces, identify money, read handwriting, scan barcodes, and differentiate between products. Voice powered assistants such as the Amazon Echo are allowing visually impaired to perform everyday tasks. Self-driving cars are great for visually impaired to enable another kind of mobility beyond the local community.

The biggest challenge in creating AI-enabled devices for the visually impaired is the issue with disposable income. Often wearables are expensive. Being able to integrate functionality for visually impaired in existing devices such as iPhone, iPad, cars, voice-powered assistants is the future. These apps can be integrated into devices for free. This empowers visually impaired to have more freedom in life, more employment opportunity without a large overhead cost.

AI Tools for the Hearing Impaired

According to the World Health Organization, there are approximately 466 million people worldwide who have disabling hearing loss. Out of these people, around 34 million are children. Historically, for children who have disabling hearing loss, the classroom setting can be difficult places to learn. The classroom acoustics such sounds from lighting and air vents are distractions to the students who have difficulty hearing. Special accommodations to offer students maximum visual access often result in social alienation for the student. Lip reading and residual hearing offer result in language deficiencies. For students with disabling hearing loss, the internet, and assistive learning technologies often offer a better instructional environment. Closed-captioned apps and instructional videos supplement classroom materials. But, for the hearing impaired, they often become the main instructional channel.

With Artificial Intelligence, the lives of the hearing impaired are changing. AI-enabled intelligent hearing aids such as Widex’s Evoke offers a hearing aid that is wirelessly powered, connected to your smartphone that can learn sounds from your environment and classify them as “background noise” or “important noise”. It allows the hearing impaired to focus on the sounds that they want to hear. The app that comes with the hearing aid enables the hearing impaired to set preferences for sounds they want to hear.

With intelligent hearing aids, hearing-impaired adults and children will be able to have integrated lives as professionals in the workplace, as students in the classroom, and as busy parents who can take care of others. For hearing impaired students, this means that they will be able to fully participate in classroom activities with other students. They will also have better social interactions with other students.

AI Tools for People with ASD

In the US, since 2014, there’s been a steady rise of children who are diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). In 2018, CDC estimated that approximately 1 in 59 children now has ASD compared with 1 in 69 in 2016. This increase has already affected the increase in health care costs devoted to children with ASD funded by individual states. It also poses significant economic costs for families whose children have ASD. Unlike other disabilities, children who have ASD often suffer from sensory overload, overactivity, inability to communicate, and a host of other issues. These children go through abnormal development cycle than normal children. The effects of ASD on these children are often wide-ranging. Even in special education classroom, depending on the severity of the symptoms, these children can learn at vastly different levels.

With the proliferation of iPhone and Ipad games, children who have ASD can learn to overcome their neurological conditions by using specific games for specific conditions. Parents often homeschool these children with the help of occupational therapists to help these children to become school-ready at some point in their lives. iPhone and Ipad games have helped these parents to educate their children from a young age.

The Age of AI offers an entirely different “game-changing” tools for people with ASD to help them overcome their limitations. Empower Me runs on any smart glasses. It connects the wearer of the glasses with a digital coach that helps the wearer interpret emotions, and give feedback to the wearer to facilitate interaction. This product allows people with ASD who have trouble interpreting social cues to both learn and interact with others by providing assistance in interpreting social situations. QTrobot is a humanoid social robot that is designed to help to teach children with ASD social skills. Often, children with ASD have oversensitivity issues when working with a human therapist. A robot can help to facilitate direct speech and instructions without any need to interpret social cues. This helps children with ASD to focus on the skills taught rather than the need to interpret social cues.

Finally, Auticon is a new kind of workplace that is making it easier for people with ASD to work alongside people without ASD. It is an IT service provider who is creating ASD friendly work environments. These work environments, not only take all the oversensitivity of a person with ASD into account, they are all full of coworkers who have learned to work with people with ASD.

The Age of Artificial Intelligence will improve the lives of people who are visually-impaired, hearing-impaired, and have ASD. With custom learning solutions, AI-enabled wearables that help with seeing and hearing, people with disabilities can learn to live better by integrating into our communities seamlessly. As our technology advances, the possibilities of children with disabilities growing up be professionals working alongside people without disabilities is more than just a possibility. In time, families will be able to dream of a better future for their children despite their disabilities.

All Rights Reserved for Jun Wu

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