Hong Zhuo, a visually-impaired masseur in northeastern Beijing, calls a smart assistant his “eyes.”
Using just his voice, he can finetune the lighting and temperature in his workshop, as the smart assistant can understand his orders and control connected lamps, air-conditioners and other devices thanks to artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things.
“It has made my work and life easier and more fun. I feel so empowered, as if in a new world,” said Hong.
Hong is one of the beneficiaries of a tech-for-good campaign by Chinese AI giant Baidu to help the visually-impaired enjoy a smarter life.
Besides Beijing, the company has equipped some massage parlors run by the visually-impaired in six cities including Guangzhou and Chengdu with its flagship smart speaker series Xiaodu, which runs DuerOS, Baidu’s conversational AI system.
Tech companies like Baidu in China are stepping up efforts to make the lives of the disabled easier by applying the latest technologies such as AI.
China had about 85 million disabled people, with about 12 million visually-impaired and 20 million hearing-impaired, according to the China Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF).
In May, Tencent rolled out an AI sign language translation platform to serve people with hearing loss. When users face the platform’s camera, their gestures and body movements can be captured in real-time and then translated into text.
Empowering the disadvantaged has become a consensus and goal of Chinese tech firms. Tech giants including Alibaba launched the Accessibility Product Alliance in China in 2013 to help the disabled gain easier and wider access to technologies.
The initiative has drawn a growing number of tech companies to make their products and services more user-friendly for the disadvantaged community like the elderly and the disabled, such as enabling words on their platforms to be turned into voice messages and vice visa.
“We are seeing a wave of improving technology accessibility for the disabled driven by technology,” said Lyu Shiming, director with the CDPF’s office to promote accessibility for the disabled. “Technology innovation and application can be people’s eyes, ears and more.”