Mark Leigh
One Commercial Partner Lead
Microsoft Australia




One of the highlights of my year to date was hosting the AI for Accessibility Challenge this week, and seeing first-hand the inspiring work of partners who are using artificial intelligence and cloud computing to transform the lives of people living with disabilities.

This is the first time Microsoft has held this event anywhere in the world. It goes to the very heart of our mission – which is to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more. We had more than 40 participants in the AI for Accessibility Challenge and this week eight partners presented ten separate solutions at our inaugural pitch day in Sydney.

The overall winner is Simplifi which is exploring the use of Azure Machine Learning and Microsoft Cognitive Services to develop a recommendation engine for users of its Getaboutable platform – a crowdsourced site featuring accessible travel destinations.

The other three partners in our top four are LiveTiles with its HiJo system designed to use AI to promote student wellbeing; AKQA, which is working on a Sense Kit that will empower disabled people to build their own solutions using sensors, haptic wearables and AI; and Publicis Sapient for its idea to support people with Multiple Sclerosis by developing an AI-infused solution that helps people manage their symptoms by controlling temperature.

The Microsoft Australia AI for Accessibility Challenge is a bid to accelerate the development of accessible and intelligent AI solutions that enhance:

  • Employment: Leveraging intelligent technology to positively impact the employment rate for people with disabilities.
  • Daily life: Promoting affordable access to technology for people with disabilities.
  • Communication & Connection: Using AI to help improve the speed, accuracy, and convenience of communication for people with disabilities.

Challenge winners will now receive coaching to help with an application for an AI for Accessibility Grant to turn their idea into reality. And we are assigning a Microsoft Business and Technical Mentor to work with Simpli.Fi through the building process. Also, to ensure that as many people as possible know and learn about this, we are going to feature the solutions in our new Microsoft Technology Centre.

What all the pitches demonstrated was fresh thinking and innovation designed to help the 18 per cent of Australians who live with disability – that’s over four million children and adults. Like Microsoft, the participants in the Challenge believe that technology can help everyone to establish a greater degree of independence and to live rich, fulfilled lives. The innovative ideas, the commitment to this important issue – and the level of technical expertise that was on display at the pitch day was extraordinary.

All of the ideas – from the winning four as well as pitches from Data#3, PwC, Readify and RecordPoint, were incredibly inspiring and we hope they will serve as a beacon for our entire partner ecosystem, encouraging them to explore the ways that they can use cloud computing and AI to create accessible solutions. To assist with this, and to continue to build on the fantastic momentum of the AI for Accessibility Challenge, the Accessibility Toolkit and Accessibility 101 training modules both remain available.

For me, the amazing solutions showcased this week reinforce the power and potential of AI to transform lives, to help children learn, assist adults to find work, promote wellness at every level of society, and for everyone to be empowered to be their best selves.