Empowering Inclusion: The Intersection of Assistive Technology and Artificial Intelligence

Global Disability Innovation Hub
Oct. 27, 2023

This blog has been taken as a summary of the research paper Artificial intelligence and assistive technology: risks, rewards, challenges, and opportunities - authored by Emma M Smith, David Graham, Cathal Morgan, Mac MacLachlan.



Assistive Technology (AT) has long been a pioneering force in the development of emerging technologies. From audio-books to text-to-speech software, the world of disability has driven innovation that eventually became mainstream. Likewise, as mainstream technologies become more accessible and inclusive, they play a critical role in enhancing the lives of disabled individuals. In this blog post, we explore the symbiotic relationship between assistive technology and artificial intelligence (AI) and the potential benefits, challenges, and ethical considerations that arise at this intersection.

AI: A New Frontier for Assistive Technology

Artificial intelligence is the capability of computer systems to perform tasks that typically require human-level intelligence, such as speech recognition, visual perception, and object classification. Various applications of AI, such as generative AI, embodied AI, human-in-the-loop AI, and transfer learning AI, are emerging in the market, each with its unique potential for enhancing assistive technology.

AI's Influence on Assistive Technology

Many forms of AT are already digitally "connected," and AI has begun to play a pivotal role in their development. Assistive robots, autonomous wheelchairs, and guidance systems for individuals with visual impairments are examples of how AI is transforming assistive technology. Facial recognition technology is being explored to assist those with difficulties in social interactions. Speech recognition, powered by AI, has revolutionized communication for many. Smart home systems, largely AI-driven, positively impact independent living, quality of life, and psychological well-being.

Challenges at the Crossroads

While AI holds great promise for assistive technology, it is not without challenges. AI systems depend on training data sets, and if these data sets lack diversity, the technology may inadvertently marginalize certain groups. Biased data, subjective labeling processes, and a lack of diversity in data collection can lead to AI technologies that do not adequately reflect the needs of a diverse range of users.

Moreover, several assistive technologies powered by AI, such as speech recognition systems and smart wheelchairs, are still under development and face issues in understanding and accurately responding to certain user needs.

The Role of Ethical Considerations

Ethical concerns related to AI in assistive technology are also emerging. While academic literature in this field has limited discussion of these issues, organizations are actively researching ways to mitigate potential harms caused. Privacy, data protection, and disproportionate impacts on vulnerable populations are among the ethical concerns raised.

The Call for Inclusive Collaboration

For AI to benefit assistive technology users equitably, it requires concerted efforts from industry, governments, private providers, and civil society. A just digital transition that aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals can only be achieved if assistive technology users actively participate in the development process. This involvement extends not only to the technologies themselves but also to discussions about ethical application, and the establishment of regulations, standards, and policies.


The intersection of assistive technology and artificial intelligence represents a powerful nexus of innovation and inclusion. As AI continues to advance, it has the potential to further revolutionise assistive technology and improve the lives of individuals with disabilities. However, to ensure that AI-driven assistive technologies are truly inclusive and ethical, a collaborative effort that involves users, researchers, policymakers, and organisations is essential.

In recognition of the potential of AI – this blog has been powered by AI software, and edited for refinement purposes, reflecting both the potential value of this technology, and the importance of the boundaries of AI capacity in its current form.