Monday, 03 December 2018 23:36

AI has ‘pivotal role’ in delivery of support services for disability sector: researchers

AI has ‘pivotal role’ in delivery of support services for disability sector: researchers Image courtesy of Cooldesign at

Technology such as artificial intelligence has a pivotal role to play when it comes to supporting people with disabilities in Australia and creating a more inclusive society, according to researchers at Western Sydney University.

The researchers made their comment on Monday, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Dr Karen Soldatic, Dr Shanthi Robertson and Dr Liam Magee from the Institute for Culture and Society are examining how Australia can better foster a sense of inclusion for people with disabilities who come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Dr Soldatic, lead researcher on the project, says that although the National Disability Insurance Scheme will assist almost 460,000 people with vital support services by 2019, the NDIS population only represents 10% of Australia’s total disability population.

“Australian Bureau of Statistics data suggests that there are 4.3 million Australians living with a disability, many of whom will miss out on the support and services they require for ongoing inclusive participation in Australian society as they do not meet the eligibility criteria,” she said.

“In addition, people from CaLD backgrounds may have limited experience of the Australian disability service system, may not be aware of their eligibility for disability services and supports, or may not meet the eligibility criteria because of the types of impairments they experience or their visa status.”

Dr Robertson, who has just completed a three-year research project on the experiences of Australian migrants, says proposed government policies to extend waiting periods for the disability support pension and age pension mean increasing numbers of long-term migrant residents who develop chronic conditions or impairment will have limited access to social security.

The research team says it hopes to build new avenues for migrants with disabilities to participate in wider social activities through the use of AI, and to advocate for better and more inclusive designs of AI itself.

“Much has been made, rightly, of the perils of emerging technologies such as AI, including the ways it can bias outcomes for minority groups,” said software researcher Dr Magee. “We are also interested in how these technologies can help to break down barriers.”

The research has found that even cheap and relatively accessible consumer technologies like language translation apps can enable day-to-day inclusion and autonomy of non-English speaking background migrants.

“Furthermore, digital technology can enable transnational families to provide aspects of care and connection to family members over distance,” Dr Robertson said.

Dr Soldatic said the International Day of Persons with Disabilities was an opportunity to acknowledge the important steps Australian society has taken towards including people with disability, and to acknowledge the major work that remains to be done.

“Given Australia’s commitment to a multicultural society, it is important that we build adaptive technologies that respond to the needs of Australia’s diverse disability community.”

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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