Why AI fairness conversations must include disabled people — Harvard Gazette

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Why AI fairness conversations must include disabled people

Naomi Saphra, Lawrence Weru, Maitreya Shah.

Photos by Jon Chase and Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographers and courtesy of Maitreya Shah; photo illustration by Judy Blomquist/Harvard Staff

April 3, 2024

7 min read

Tech offers promise to help yet too often perpetuates ableism, say researchers. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Third in a four-part series on non-apparent disabilities.

AI researcher Naomi Saphra faced “a programmer’s worst nightmare” in 2015. After a decade of coding and just as she was about to start a Ph.D. program in Scotland, neuropathy in her hands rendered typing too painful.

Seeking a solution, Saphra turned to the very technology she was studying. She began the long process of teaching herself how to code using voice-to-text dictation technologies. Today, a system called Talon, which Saphra has heavily customized to complete specific tasks, allows her to code and to write papers for her research on language models.

“I rely on it completely,” said the research fellow at the Kempner Institute for the Study of Natural and Artificial Intelligence. “I would absolutely not have a career if we didn’t have AI for speech-to-text. These days [...]

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