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Researchers Test Generative AI's Utility for Accessibility

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AI-generated image of a character

AI-generated imagery, like the example shown here, helped a researcher with aphantasia see "what the scenes and characters in her favorite book could look like."

Credit: University of Washington, Midjourney

Seven researchers at the University of Washington conducted a three-month autoethnographic study — drawing on their own experiences as people with and without disabilities — to test AI tools' utility for accessibility. Though researchers found cases in which the tools were helpful, they also found significant problems with AI tools in most use cases.

The team presented its findings at the 25th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility. The presented their work in vignettes where the technology proved useful, though results were mixed.

For example, three authors tried using AI tools to increase the accessibility of content such as tables for a research paper or slideshow. The AI programs were able to state accessibility rules but couldn't apply them consistently when creating content.

Image-generating AI tools helped an author with aphantasia interpret imagery from books. Yet when the AI tool was used to create an illustration of "people with a variety of disabilities looking happy but not at a party," the program could conjure only fraught images of people at a party that included ableist incongruities, such as a disembodied hand resting on a disembodied prosthetic leg.

From University of Washington
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