AI Enables Employment for Individuals with Cognitive Disabilities

Published Sep 21 2020 01:22 PM 1,173 Views
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This article is written by Humans of IT Community Ambassador and Business Applications MVP, Nathan Lasnoski (in partnership with Windows Development MVP Min Maung), who shares how artificial intelligence can be used to enable employment and functional opportunities for individuals with cognitive disabilities.


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What responsibility does technology (and do technologists) have in creating innovation that leads to the realization and fulfillment of a human being? Does technology create a new generation of unfairly applied have and have-nots?  We can use technology to drastically improve the positive tech impact on human involvement and engagement, especially for individuals with disabilities who are often excluded from opportunities within society. In this story we talk about the work done at Clover to enable individuals with cognitive disabilities to engage in opportunities that were previously thought impossible.  



Clover Technologies wanted its warehouses to be the best workplace environments among any of its competitors. To get there, we built a mixed-reality platform leveraging a multi-component scanner, headset, visual, and audio input. The idea was to optimize the picking experience for a worker by providing instructions on where they should go, when, and how, augmenting it with quality control, location awareness, and easy scanning capabilities. Then, this idea expanded further: if we could provide impact to capable workers, why not ones with cognitive disabilities, such as Down syndrome or autism?  


Did you know that less than 10% of individuals with Down syndrome and cognitive disabilities are employed? We believe that tech can help empower all individuals to be productive and have the ability to be gainfully employed. Clover, Concurrency (with MVPs Min Maung and Nathan Lasnoski), Microsoft, and Gigi’s Playhouse Down syndrome development centers partnered to do something about it. We realized these individuals could do meaningful warehouse work with a human assistant, and we wanted to simulate this assistance with technology.


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We combined the headset, audio input, visual input and hand-attached scanner to enable an individual to work in the warehouse. We proved the success of the technology with one individual, then expanded to more, bringing groups from Gigi’s Playhouse to experience the difference. The solution leverages Microsoft Azure Cognitive Services, Azure ML, Azure SQL, Azure Speech and location awareness. 


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The architecture made use of the dispatcher modules to facilitate routing between QnA maker AI models, weather, fun engagement, and third party applications.


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You can see here how the project evolved over time. We started with initial pilot capabilities, moved into validation, learnings in a real environment with real people, then moving into open source.


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This AI for Good solution is now available on open source in order to increase its impact for good.  Large suppliers, manufacturers, and stores are asking to leverage it to improve their own working environments. The result is a better workplace and a larger base of potential employees for companies to hire from. We know of nothing out there that better demonstrates the power of AI to create jobs for those most at risk than this technology. Visit AI For Good Technologies ( to join the Open Source Community on GitHub.


This gets to a critical point about the relevance and impact of this work. When a large company like Clover can achieve this level of impact, leaders at even larger companies can begin to see their own opportunities to help empower others in the community. The impact has been proven out across hundreds of Microsoft customers—in tours, reference calls for the field sales team, and at Microsoft’s DTA.  At the DTA presentation, the story “brought the house down” without a dry eye in the theatre, driving excitement about what is possible when leaders see AI not as “nice to have” but “need to have”— in order to transform business operations and people’s work opportunities. Now, as organizations look to survive, recover, and thrive beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, broadening employment opportunities on both the employer and employee side becomes even more compelling than before. How will YOU use your tech skills to help empower others today?




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