Closing the Disability Divide with Tech

This summer will mark the 34th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, landmark civil rights legislation that provides protections for people with disabilities. Technology is playing a significant role in empowering people with disabilities and continuing to close the disability divide. Advances in AI are now contributing to this progress.

This week’s annual Microsoft Ability Summit, which includes leaders from the private sector, the disability community, and government, is looking at how AI can have a positive impact for people with disabilities. For an overview of the event, see this blog, “Ability Summit 2024: Advancing accessibility with AI technology and innovation.” You can also learn more in this Forbes interview with Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Microsoft’s Chief Accessibility Officer.

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This Week in Washington 

  • Venture Beat: In a brief mention in his State of the Union address, President Biden called on Congress to pass online privacy legislation to protect children and to ban the use of AI technology to impersonate voices, while at the same time arguing that America must “harness the promise of AI.”
  • Axios and Wall Street Journal: A fast-moving bill that would force TikTok’s Chinese parent company ByteDance to divest its ownership of the video sharing app passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee with a bi-partisan 50-0 vote. The unanimous, bipartisan committee vote came despite TikTok turning app users into instant advocates, reportedly driving thousands of phone calls in a single day to Congressional offices. House Republican leaders plan to schedule a floor vote next week, and despite opposition from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which claims it violates the First Amendment, President Biden would likely sign it into law.
  • Nextgov/FCW: Senator Todd Young (R-IN), a member of the bipartisan AI working group, announced that major Senate committees focused on AI will likely begin marking up legislation related to the technology in the upcoming months.
  • Nextgov/FCW: Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced the Promoting United States Leadership in Standards Act of 2024, which aims to ensure the U.S. will lead the development of global standards of critical and emerging technologies.
  • Broadband Breakfast: In a joint letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a group of broadband advocacy organizations urged the agency to exclude smaller and rural broadband providers from their new digital discrimination rules, believing it would place an undue burden on rural providers.
  • CyberScoop: In the lead-up to Super Tuesday, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) officials announced that they have not seen any serious attempts to meddle with the election and emphasized that they have not contacted social media companies regarding disinformation.
  • Axios: CISA recently held a summit to provide hands-on support to open source software developers and unveiled new initiatives for them to help secure their projects.

Article Summary

  • The New York Times: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed a sweeping social media bill that would have prevented residents under the age of 16 from opening accounts on social media platforms, even if they had parental consent. The state Legislature is expected to introduce a “different, superior bill” that recognizes parents’ rights.
  • The Washington Post: Mothers Against Media Addiction (MAMA) launched a grassroots initiative to combat rising addiction to social media and other digital tools among kids. The group has become a force in the growing debate over children’s online safety and even received financial backing from the Center for Humane Technology (CHT). 
  • Spectrum News 1: Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear announced that the state is committing $10.2 million to connect 3,500 homes and businesses to high-speed internet, with 2,300 of those being in Henderson County and 1,200 in Daviess County, adding 652 miles of connectivity.
  • Nextgov/FCW: As states face a backlog of food stamp requests, they may be turning to AI and automation to help tackle these issues. To get approval for these programs, they must showcase that they are mitigating bias and explain how the advancing technology will affect program access, staff duties, security systems, equitable program administration, and privacy.

Featured Podcast


  • Pivotal with Hayete Gallot
    What if every student had access to a personal tutor who could help them learn based on customized areas of improvement or subjects of interest? This was the ambitious goal of the United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Education. To turn this into reality, they connected with Quddus Pativada, the 20-year-old founder of AI learning firm ASI. Pativada had already developed and tested an AI tutor with the potential to transform how students learn, and was looking for a customer to implement his solution. Rather than trying to block the use of AI in their education system, the UAE is embracing it. Working with ASI and Microsoft, the Ministry is rolling out the AI tutor for all students across the country, providing one-on-one tutoring as a means to modernize and improve learning at all levels. In this episode, we hear from both Quddus and Raghad Aljughaiman, Strategic and Future Planning Advisor at the UAE Ministry of Education, about their ambitious journey toward personalized, AI-assisted learning at scale. (How the UAE is closing the education gap with AI tutors – March 5, 2024)