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Microsoft India, IIT Delhi to bring technical solutions for the differently-abled

In the four-day conference, sessions, including workshops and seminars to understand disabilities and assistive technologies will be discussed.

, ET Online|
Updated: Oct 10, 2019, 04.13 PM IST
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ET Online
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“We believe that integration of differently-abled people should be an important goal for any society," M Balakrishnan, founder of Assitech and Professor, CSE Department, IIT Delhi, said.
NEW DELHI: Microsoft India, in partnership with Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi will host the second edition of Empower from October 14 to October 17 at I-TEC, IIT Delhi, Sonipat. The conference will bring together technologists, researchers, and policy makers to discuss measures to make assistive technologies available for everyone and the roadblocks that might come along the way.

In the four-day conference, sessions, including workshops and seminars to understand disabilities and assistive technologies will be discussed. It will also showcase the assistive technology solutions like the spatial audio toolkit for immersive exploration of games and virtual environments. Disabled Persons’ Organizations (DPOs) and Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) will be a part of the conference.

Talking about what to expect at the event, Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research, Manohar Swaminathan, who was part of the press interaction held in the capital on Thursday , said innovators would bring solutions for the differently abled. He also gave a glimpse of some of assistive technology products designed by Microsoft which will be featured in the event.

These include CodeTalk which was built to enhance productivity of those who have low vision or are unable to see. GesturPod- an interactive device for people using canes which uses embedded machine learning libraries to guide the people and tangible toys for computational thinking and numeracy for blind children. These resources are freely available to developers of assistive technologies.

Founder of Assitech and Professor, CSE Department, IIT Delhi, M Balakrishnan said, “We believe that integration of differently-abled people should be an important goal for any society. Using assistive technologies, we can help them to be a part of the societal progress.”

When asked if lack of awareness has been a hurdle in the program, Swaminathan said, “Through conferences like these, we are trying to get the word out. The first level of awareness is looking towards the solution. In our Seattle office we got a call from a paraplegic person asking us how can he could use computers. Microsoft had already developed a Gaze-control API machine that helps people to work on computers using their eyes, I told him that you can simply order it. Through such meetings and media interactions we want to spread the word that such solutions exist and can be used easily.”

He added that people are aware and accept blindness, but knowledge of people who are hard of hearing or deaf is very low. He explained that at times stigma plays a big factor in people not reaching out. “People want to hide their disabilities and often there's no support. Secondly, people with disabilities who have been able to perform normally need to join hands and empower others. Also, such awareness has to be spread by the medical fraternity to parents and the society,” he said.

When asked about people’s response towards the technical solutions, especially those who have been used to the traditional methods of coping, Swaminathan said, “When we implemented our technology CodeTalk to a blind aspiring programmer, he was so skeptical and hesitant. Giving one try, he was amazed to see that it was possible."

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