Over the next five years, Microsoft will invest $25 million in artificial intelligence technology made for people with disabilities.

Share story

Microsoft will invest $25 million over the next five years in artificial intelligence technology that helps people with disabilities navigate the world around them.

The company announced the investment Monday at its annual developers conference, Microsoft Build, held at the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle.

AI for Accessibility, as Microsoft calls the program, will give grants to universities, developers and nongovernmental organizations that are working on technology that benefits those with disabilities. Microsoft will also give technical advice and investments to organizations that have already developed such technology to help them roll it out to as many people as possible.

Microsoft has emphasized accessibility technology heavily in the last several years, especially under CEO Satya Nadella. A free iPhone app for people who are blind and visually impaired introduced by the company last year, Seeing AI, reads text out loud and identifies objects in the person’s surroundings.

The accessibility initiative will be led by the Redmond company’s chief accessibility officer, Jenny Lay-Flurrie.

“Disabilities can be permanent, temporary or situational,” Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote in a blog post Monday morning. “By innovating for people with disabilities, we are innovating for us all.”

AI for Accessibility follows on the heels of Microsoft’s $50 million investment last year in AI for Earth – a similar initiative that benefits organizations working on climate-change and environmental technology.

The company also announced a slew of artificial intelligence features it will add to its own technology to appeal to developers who build on Microsoft’s products. Among them, speech services tools will bring audio processing to developers’ applications and advanced text-to-speech functions to Microsoft’s cloud computing technology Azure.