Main menu (IT)

AI & Accessibility

September 21, 2023

Artificial intelligence (AI) is making the digital world more accessible. Paradoxically, some AI tools are themselves not accessible. If you want to use AI in your class this Fall, offer an alternate way to complete those assignments and/or check with the Universal Design Center (UDC) about the accessibility of the tool you’ve chosen.

AI has been quietly powering a revolution in accessible technology. AI has provided closed captions for videos on YouTube, Panopto, and other platforms for quite a few years now. AI powers the automated live captions we’ve come to expect on Zoom and other video-conferencing services. Early captions were obviously computer-generated but in many cases, AI captions now rival professional human captioners.

AI has been translating between languages for a while now as well. While a computer’s translation will not replace professional translations, they can help a student or their parent quickly get important information from a shorter source, or they may help a student get a sense of the content in their native language before studying a longer source in the original language.

AI will also try to describe your pictures. In Microsoft Office, when you add alternative (alt) text to an image, you now have the option to “generate alt text for me.” ChatGPT 4 describes images too. This technology is moving from software for writing out into the real world – apps will access the camera and describe the user’s surroundings.

Students, especially those with learning and/or language differences, can use Grammarly, ChatGPT, and similar tools for both reading and writing. These tools can summarize course readings and extract key points, helping students focus and study more efficiently. These tools can provide a student with feedback on their writing before they submit an assignment.

This is all exciting but, even as AI can open new possibilities, it can also exclude students who need support, inclusion and belonging. Unfortunately, the current browser-based version of ChatGPT does not pass accessibility checks.

If you have a plan to give assignments that incorporate AI this semester, you have a few options. You can make the AI part of the assignment optional, and give all of your students more than one way to complete the assignment. If there’s an AI tool you want to require your students to use, check with the UDC; we can provide some guidance on the accessibility of the tool you’ve chosen.