Tech Overlook

Zyrobotics – Microsoft Accessibility Blog


By Wendy Chisholm, Principal Accessibility Architect

In May, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced AI for Accessibility to put AI tools in the hands of developers, universities, NGOs and inventors to accelerate the development of accessible and intelligent AI solutions to benefit people with disabilities around the world.

Today, we are announcing the first AI for Accessibility grantee, Zyrobotics. They are developing unique solutions for accessible science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, like ReadAble Storiez, that are adaptive to the diverse needs of students. We are thrilled to have them as part of our program and we can’t wait to see the impact they will have!

Zyrobotics CEO Dr. Johnetta MacCalla and CTO Dr. Ayanna Howard alongside Microsoft CTO Satya Nadella

ReadAble Storiez is a reading fluency program for students with diverse learning needs, which also helps fill in the gaps for students from low-income homes who may not have access to speech-language or occupational therapists. By creating custom speech models with Microsoft Cognitive Services and Azure Machine Learning, they aim to identify when a student needs feedback, much like an occupational therapist would recognize and provide.

Zyrobotics is a team of educators and developers who have a passion for creating technology that will enhance the quality of life for children. Last week, Satya had the opportunity to meet with Zyrobotics CEO Dr. Johnetta MacCalla and CTO Dr. Ayanna Howard in Atlanta, Georgia, and learn more about their work and passion for helping all students become better readers.

As Dr. Howard shared with us, “In our experience, because every child is different, you have to let them look at technology in different ways, more than just visual and auditory. Our focus is to incorporate interaction and personalization. The usage of AI/machine learning algorithms ensures that our apps are accessible and can be adapted to the personal needs of each child. We are excited about how this grant and partnership with Microsoft will help us address significant gaps for engaging each child based on their unique strengths and abilities.”

Look out for more grant-winning projects to be announced on the Accessibility Blog, the AI for Accessibility website and our social channels in the coming months. For those getting started, here are three of the top questions we have received from applicants:

When can I apply?
Now! We are accepting submissions on a rolling basis over the next five years. Grant proposals can be submitted via the online application form. Applicants will receive a follow up email within 30-60 days.

What is Microsoft looking for in applications?
We are looking for revolutionary ideas that use AI and align with any of our three areas of focus:

  • Employment. How can we positively impact the employment rate for people with disabilities through more intelligent technology?
  • Daily Life. How can we increase access to technology for people with disabilities while also decreasing the cost of such technology?
  • Communication & Connection. How can AI help improve the speed, accuracy, and convenience of communication for people with disabilities?

We are looking for individuals or teams who are not only passionate about making the world more inclusive, but also firmly rooted in the communities they intend to benefit. We want to see ideas that are developed by or with people with disabilities, not just for us.

What can I receive through the program?
First, check that your idea meets the following criteria:

  • Relevance: AI and/or machine learning are core to the project success;
  • Impact: Clearly elevates either employment, daily life, or communication & connection for someone with a disability;
  • Feasible: Is deliverable in a one-year timeframe—this could be phase 1 of the project but there should be tangible deliverables completed each quarter that are wrapped up in one year;
  • Capable: Your team should have the knowledge and skill to deliver the idea OR you partner with someone who can fill in the gaps;
  • Sustainable: The project has room to grow beyond the first year of funding;
  • Showcase-able: We want to talk about whatever you deliver!

The AI for Accessibility program provides monetary grants as well as technology and expertise depending on the potential impact and needs of each project. This can include:

  • Access to Microsoft Azure AI resources and Developer Support. To estimate the Azure computing resources you need, use the Azure calculator;
  • The costs of crowd-sourcing and cleaning data needed to get your project up and running;
  • Guidance from a Microsoft team of AI, project management, and accessibility experts who can help guide you to scale to a wide audience and deliver the impact you envision.

If you have additional questions about the awards program or the application process, please visit the AI for Accessibility FAQ.

Remember: anyone can apply! From a tinkerer in a basement to an established corporation, from students to professionals. If you are worried you don’t have what it takes, find someone who does and partner with them on an application. So, no excuses. 😊

Over the past eighteen months, Microsoft has fostered a growing $115 million AI for Good initiative that puts AI in the hands of inspired individuals developing real-world outcomes that tackle some of society’s most critical challenges. Comprised of AI for Accessibility, AI for Earth and AI for Humanitarian Action, we are hopeful the world will see what a compelling force for good AI can be.

We cannot wait to see what you create by or with people with disabilities to empower everyone to achieve more. 

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