Microsoft accessibility grants go out to companies aiming to improve tech for people with disabilities – TechCrunch

The tech world has a lot to offer those with disabilities, but it can be hard to get investors excited about the accessibility space. That’s why Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility grants are so welcome: equity-free Azure credits and cash for companies looking to adapt AI to the needs of those with disabilities. The company just announced ten more, including education for the blind startup ObjectiveEd.

The grant program was started a while back with a $5 million, 5-year mission to pump a little money into deserving startups and projects — and get them familiar with Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure, of course.

Applications are perennially accepted, and “anybody who wants to explore the value of AI and machine learning for people with disabilities is welcome to apply,” said Microsoft’s Mary Bellard. As long as they have “great ideas and roots in the disability community.”

Among the grantees this time around is ObjectiveEd, which I wrote about earlier this year. The company is working on an iPad-based elementary school curriculum for blind and low-vision students that’s also accessible to sighted kids and easy for teachers to deploy.

Part of that, as you might guess, is braille. But there aren’t nearly enough teachers capable of teaching braille as students who need to learn it, and the most common technique is very hands-on: a student reads braille (on a hardware braille display) out loud and a teacher corrects them. Depending on whether a student has access to the expensive braille display and a suitable tutor at home, that can mean as little as an hour a week dedicated to these crucial lessons.

ObjectiveEd 2

A refreshable braille display for use with apps like ObjectiveEd’s.

“We thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we could send a sentence to the braille display, have the student speak the words out loud, then have Microsoft’s Azure Services translate that to text and compare that to the braille display, then correct the student if necessary and move on. All within the context of a game, to make it fun,” said ObjectiveEd founder Marty…