Is ChatGPT A Way to Level the Playing Field For People With Disabilities?
How to Use AI to Foster Inclusion and Independence in Schools, Workplaces, and Social Settings
Instead, it’s fought within the walls of classrooms, offices, and in places that should be accessible and accommodating to all. But as most people with a disability will tell you, that’s not always the case.
If you don’t know what separates equality from equity, the latter is a system that recognizes different circumstances and aims to allocate resources and opportunities so everyone has a chance to succeed. Equality is giving everyone the same resources regardless of their situation. Neither are bad (if done with good intentions), but only one is effective.
So how can things like AI and ChatGPT help level the playing field?
ChatGPT and AI as Resources for Students With Dyslexia
Dyslexia affects 20% of Americans and 20% of Canadians. That’s a combined total of 45 million people in those two countries alone.
If you’re one of those people, you know that understanding large blocks of text are overwhelming, grammar is complicated, and getting your thoughts on paper seems to be an insurmountable feat some days.
This is where AI softwares like ChatGPT can help.
Students, regardless of their level of education, can use these programs to:
As an example of how effective it can be at simplifying complex information, we asked ChatGPT to explain an excerpt of a Wikipedia entry about quantum physics to a third grade student.
Here’s the response:
While this feature is incredibly beneficial, it doesn’t mean it should be a replacement for critical thinking and putting in the work. In an article for Dystinct, a magazine centered around learning disabilities, two professionals have cautioned against letting ChatGPT do all of the work while students coast by.
Dr. Pledger Fedora, the founder of the Dyslexia Institute for Literacy & Learning, said that assistive technology can be “extremely beneficial” in supporting students with dyslexia. The issue arises when students become dependent on these tools. Relying too heavily on technology can damage critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Dyslexia specialist Victoria Leslie claims to be “very concerned” about ChatGPT. She said it can encourage students to “outsource” thinking and tempt them to plagiarize when they’re stuck, which may affect learning.
With all of this being said, when used as a resource and not a replacement for hard work, AI and ChatGPT can be an excellent tool for students with dyslexia. Like anything, it’s in the way you use it.
ChatGPT and Autism: How the Tool Can Help People on the Spectrum
Reddit user u/hadleyajohnston said it best:
As a “neurotypical brain” in your phone, ChatGPT can help many neurodivergent people navigate their daily lives independently.
Teens and adults alike can use AI to help write resumes and cover letters, receive advice on how to interact in certain social situations like interviews or a first date, or like the Reddit user above suggested, talking about their interests with “someone” who never gets bored of the topic.
The relationship between ChatGPT and people with autism is a mutually-beneficial one.
People on the spectrum can use it to conquer social settings and help with major milestones, while ChatGPT and other AI platforms can benefit from understanding neurodiverse patterns, habits, ways of speaking, and use cases. This will help the chatbot produce better content and provide neurotypical people with answers to their questions about autism based on a combination of scientific data and lived experience from neurodiverse people.
How ChatGPT Can Help the Visually Impaired
The effectiveness of ChatGPT as a tool to help people with disabilities has been debated since its release in November 2022.
The release of GPT-4 and its integration with Be My Eyes should hopefully put those concerns to rest, at least where people with visual impairments are concerned. Be My Eyes, an app to help blind and low-vision people navigate the world, is the first app to connect with ChatGPT-4’s multi-modal (something that has different “modes” or ways of doing something) capabilities.
People can send images through the app to a “Virtual Volunteer” (powered by AI). This volunteer will answer any questions about the image and provide instant visual assistance for tasks.
As a testament of how effective this pairing can be, consider this example.
If a user sends a picture of the inside of their cupboard, the Virtual Volunteer will be able to identify the items, provide suggestions for things that can be prepared with them, and provide step-by-step instructions on how to execute the recipes.
The video function is even more impressive.
Users can get help in real time. It will describe the appearance of scenes in front of the user, identify plants and flowers, read a map, and even provide real-time directions to a destination such as a washroom in a restaurant.
This partnership is a notable embodiment of how the world is inaccessible for people with visual impairments. But it also instills a sense of hope that AI can help us level the playing field.
Using AI and ChatGPT as a Communication Disability Tool
People with communication disabilities have to strategically choose each word as each one often takes significant effort and time to say or write.
There are many types of communication disabilities that affect a person’s ability to communicate, understand or write what they’re trying to say. These disabilities can be a result of cerebral palsy, strokes, TBIs, motor neurone disease, aphasia, and speech problems like stuttering. They can affect the clarity of your speech and what you have the ability to say, your ability to understand others, and reading and writing skills.
ChatGPT can help overcome that barrier.
It mimics polite human conversation and has the ability to turn large amounts of text into easy-to-read and comprehend summaries for people with limited literacy skills. While Siri and other more common AI models have implemented this, ChatGPT is different.
It has already proven to be more adaptable by understanding poorly written commands or sentences with grammatical and spelling errors. Some people use it to “polish” their communication and to include the niceties that may be missing from what they’re trying to write or say.
ChatGPT’s ability to provide ways to be more “polite” in conversation is a major benefit for people who rely on communication devices.
Fiona Given, a lawyer and research associate at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia, uses a speech device due to Cerebral Palsy and only outputs roughly 18 words a minute.
When asked about how AI can help her, the results were plenty.
“Due to the effort that is required of me to compose my messages, I economize on words. This results in me only telling half a story or sounding curt because I leave out the nice fluffy parts of language. This can lead to breakdowns in communication or even breakdowns in relationships.”
She expanded further, saying that effective communication can help her in personal situations as well.
“It could also help me provide detailed instructions to direct support workers such as how to assist me in the shower … how to cook my favorite dish. Often by the time I have typed my message, the conversation has moved on. AI technology could help me be a more active participant.”
Fiona isn’t the only one limited by her speech generating device. People who use them are often limited to painstakingly entering 10 words per minute. Word prediction helps a little, raising that number to 12-18 words per minute. Still, this isn’t enough when you know that the people who don’t rely on these devices speak about 173 words per minute.
While ChatGPT can be an effective communication tool, it is not without doubt from experts.
AI software, when used as an assistive device, raises the question of authorship. When using a computer that processes information faster and has access to more information than you, is it really you speaking?
Is AI speaking and doing the heavy lifting for you?
This continues to be a point of contention for many people. Regardless, people who rely on AI could edit the text so it’s their words, just with a little support from technology.
These concerns aren’t large enough to dismiss the benefits of AI for people with communication disabilities. Like anything, it comes down to how you use it.