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February 22, 2024

Inclusive Tech: The Synergy of AI and Developer Creativity
byKatie BrennemaninTips

There should be no question that the digital landscape should be accessible to all users. After all, it’s a primary forum through which we communicate and collaborate. Developers have an important role to play here. Their perspectives, insights, and creativity drive how products and platforms are designed to meet the needs of diverse audiences.

Yet, it’s still a challenging process. One of the ways that developers are addressing these challenges is by utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) tools. This isn’t about expecting machine learning to magically make all projects more accessible. Rather, it can be a supportive tool for developers to use alongside their creativity to optimize the inclusivity of products.

Let’s explore this idea of AI and developer synergy further.

Ensuring Accessible Platforms

Perhaps the most common area in which AI and developer creativity meet is in web and software accessibility. Just 3% of the internet is considered to be accessible to individuals with disabilities. There’s a need to bridge this gap quickly and effectively.

As a tool, generative AI can be useful here for quickly creating basic code to specific standards of web and software accessibility. ChatGPT and similar platforms can produce drafts of code to the parameters set by the developer. This means that, alongside keeping general web accessibility standards, developers can request code to address the potential inclusivity issues that are common to the specific type of software or website.

That said, the developers themselves play a huge role in getting the most out of generative AI coding. AI cannot produce flawless solutions every time. After all, it doesn’t have access to human empathy and perspectives that can enable developers to spot potential accessibility issues the AI misses.

For instance, those living with genetic mutations can experience a range of nuanced accessibility issues. Some conditions lead to vision difficulties, particularly inherited retinal degeneration. This can make seeing and interacting with software and websites challenging without assistance. Other mutations can also result in conditions that cause non-syndromic hearing loss, affecting a person’s ability to listen to audio media. Developers need to take the time to get a good understanding of the practical hurdles of such conditions. This enables them to be better collaborators with AI in creating accessible platforms.

Influencing Efficiency

It’s important to recognize that efficiency can influence accessibility. We are still learning new things all the time about the challenges people with different disabilities face, particularly regarding emerging software and hardware tech.

For instance, virtual digital environments, such as the metaverse, are coming to the fore. As a result, there’s growing attention on how current virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) hardware and software can present hurdles to those with disabilities. Developers must be able to respond to this information quickly and effectively to ensure all users have a fair chance to engage meaningfully. 

This is another area in which AI tools can be paired with developer creativity. For designers, this begins with doing deep dives into the notes you receive so you can get specific about the issues you need to address. Get to know not just what the hurdles to accessibility are, but also why they are problematic.

A good example of this relates to the aforementioned issues with the rise of VR. Microsoft conducted research into the effects of various low vision conditions. This enabled them to create tailorable visual and audio augmentation tools for developers to incorporate in software. Committing to conducting or seeking out this kind of solid research enables you to devise a range of relevant creative solutions that improve inclusive usability.

Prioritizing Efficiency in Production

However, particularly if you come up with several solutions, it’s not efficient to just introduce one at a time to the public and see if it comes back with issues. AI helps here by efficiently simulating user behavior — including if users with disabilities are using adaptive tools — and testing each of your potential solutions. This helps to highlight any continuing or new issues related to your changes and narrow down the most likely options for introducing back to the marketplace.

AI’s potential for improving efficiency even extends to when developers are part of teams creating physical products. AI-driven design and manufacturing software can speed up product improvement through automation. When developers provide details about inclusivity needs for the design, platforms can generate multiple design alternatives, produce 3D models, and even suggest efficient machining strategies for production.

Empowering Diverse Developers

It’s easy to look outwardly at how the synergy between AI and developers helps create accessible products and online materials. However, it’s also important to understand that it can benefit professionals and the industry, too. Software tools that use machine learning to support development working practices are starting to empower more diverse coders to contribute to the field.

One good example of this is how AI is used for coding without physical interfaces. Developers who live with physical challenges and may not be able to type code can benefit from AI-driven virtual assistants. Conversational AI that interprets voice inputs can connect to development software and enable coders to directly speak their code rather than type it. Importantly, these platforms can be trained on the nuanced jargon and intentions of specific industries, which makes them more accurate collaborators.

Conclusion

Genuine inclusivity is a priority when developing for our increasingly digitally reliant society. AI tools offer developers opportunities to ideate and test more efficiently to improve the user experiences of people with a wide range of accessibility challenges. 

That said, the perspectives of people navigating these challenges surrounding disability have a vital role to play, too. Developers must take the time to have meaningful discussions and perhaps involve them in the dev process. This helps to ensure more equal access to products, software, and websites in the digital landscape.


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