Microsoft APAC AI for Accessibility Hackathon 2023, held in collaboration with SLIIT, encourages the implementation of AI to create an inclusive world

(LANKAPUVATH | COLOMBO) –  The Microsoft APAC AI for Accessibility Hackathon 2023 successfully concluded at Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) University recently. Recognized as a platform for young developers to create solutions harnessing AI to solve real-world challenges faced by people with disabilities (PwD), Microsoft APAC AI for Accessibility Hackathon enables students to generate ideas that would transform lives and build an inclusive world.

Furthering the Microsoft mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more, the Microsoft APAC AI for Accessibility Hackathon was designed to cover areas around daily life, employment, communication, and accessible education. Problem statements that highlighted issues faced by PwD were compiled under the theme ‘Nothing for us without us’ in collaboration with global non-profit organizations working on disability inclusion. Based on these statements, students were expected to design solutions that provided PwD with equal access to day-to-day activities.

The top ten teams from SLIIT presented their ideas, and Team HearMe emerged winners with their proposed Self-exploration based Interactive Learning Tool for children who are deaf or hard of hearing and use cochlear implants or hearing aids that help provide a sense of sound. From a young age, children who are deaf or hard of hearing are often guided to learn sign language even if they use hearing aids, though they can be encouraged to communicate verbally. This leads to language deprivation, where the child receives limited exposure to language during the critical period of language development. Now with the AI-powered solution presented by Team HearMe, children who are deaf or hard of hearing have a companion in their language learning journey. Team HearMe understands that every child is unique and deserves to have learning methods tailored to their needs. With the HearMe Mobile Application, children have access to personalized learning material that has both auditory and visual stimulation with the support of an in-app Speech Therapist, ensuring speech perception and language development. Team HearMe, as well as all the other teams who presented their ideas, reflected the deep commitment the students had to forging an accessible future with assistive technology.


Speaking about the competition, Prof. Lalith Gamage, Vice-Chancellor at SLIIT, said, “Platforms such as this expand the learning of our students by enabling them to adopt the latest technology to solve real-life problems. We are thankful to Microsoft for organizing numerous accessibility awareness sessions, which have provided our students with an in-depth understanding of how they can make a difference. Their skills and knowledge are channeled into creating an inclusive culture, inspiring them to go beyond their own realities and recognize the powerful role of technology in leveling the playing field for all. Through this hackathon, not only do our students demonstrate their technical expertise, but they also recognize the significance of utilizing technology for the betterment of the community. We hope to continue hosting more events and opportunities that empower our students and promote societal development.”

Microsoft APAC AI for Accessibility Hackathon 2023 required students to propose their solutions incorporating AI technology and present a roadmap toward the final commercial launch. The panel of judges consisted of representatives of SLIIT, Enable Lanka Foundation, and Microsoft. The teams were evaluated based on parameters such as idea, feasibility, proposed technology, and commercial viability. Team HearMe will now receive unique opportunities, including ‘Meet the Experts’ sessions on Cloud Fundamentals, AI topics, and cybersecurity, as well as customized career development guidance and social showcasing on Microsoft platforms.

“Seeing the creative innovations of students from SLIIT has re-instilled in us the belief in young tech talent that our country has, and we thank SLIIT for hosting the competition in Sri Lanka. It is inspiring to see universities embracing such opportunities to help enhance the learning scope of their students and encourage them to create inclusive cultures. Harnessing the power of AI to amplify human capability has become imperative in every progressive community, and we have been able to involve these students in contributing to this transformation, showcasing how technology can unlock solutions that empower people with disabilities,” stated Harsha Randeny, Country Manager for Microsoft Sri Lanka and Maldives.

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