Paralympian Lex Gillette’s top 7 AI tools for accessibility

Discover the AI innovations empowering lives on and off the athletic track

Human sighted guides are instrumental in supporting blind athletes. They offer comprehensive instructions on adaptations, training, and methodologies. Today, much like a guide, Azure OpenAI Service is helping power Microsoft apps that help people accomplish their goals, no matter how large. Copilot for Microsoft 365 can automate tasks and generate content, Microsoft Translator can bridge linguistic barriers, and tools like Seeing AI can read documents and describe immediate surroundings making it easier than ever to navigate the world. For Paralympian Champion long jumper Lex Gillette, technology with accessible design helps him thrive on and off the field.

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Refusing to let blindness limit ambitions

At the age of eight, Gillette faced a life-altering challenge when he was diagnosed with recurrent retinal detachments. Despite undergoing numerous surgeries, Gillette lost his sight entirely. With the support of his mother, educators, and mentors, Gillette adapted to his new way of living, refusing to let his blindness limit his ambitions. He turned to sports, where he found not only an outlet for his energy and competitiveness but also a platform to showcase his extraordinary abilities.

In the Paralympic world, guides use audible cues, enabling athletes to better gauge their run-up and take-off points, and they provide safety protocols and injury prevention strategies to ensure athletes can train effectively while minimizing risks. Under the guidance of his coach, Brian Whitmer, he learned to run and jump without the ability to see, using the sound of his coach’s voice.

“Athletes with sight are able to see other successful sprinters,” explains Gillette. “When you can’t see you’re reliant on your guide to help you understand what you need to do with your body to get better results.”

A portrait of Lex Gillette wearing a Team USA track uniform

With a career boasting multiple Paralympic medals in the long jump, including silver medals across five consecutive Paralympic Games (2004, 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020), Gillette has solidified his status as one of the most accomplished athletes in the field. He holds the world record in the T11 (totally blind classification) long jump category and has earned numerous championships and accolades in both national and international competitions.

In 2016, Lex Gillette was in sixth place when he took his starting position for the long jump. He had already started sprinting when he realized that the sound of the enthusiastic crowd was prohibiting him from hearing his guide. He could have chosen to start over. But he chose to persevere.

 “I had a decision to make,” says Gillette. “I could have stopped running. Gone back and waited for them to be quiet.”

Instead, Gillette jumped. He went from sixth place to winning the silver.

Empowering through Microsoft AI innovation

Today, Gillette has set a goal for himself of helping other individuals achieve their dreams, whether that’s through athletics or entrepreneurship. And he believes AI can help.

Microsoft and Azure AI offer a range of accessibility solutions to create more inclusive experiences. Solutions include speech transcription and captioning, content readers, translation services, voice assistants, facial recognition, and computer vision. These AI-powered tools can help individuals with disabilities better access and engage with digital content, whether it’s through speech-to-text transcription, image captioning, or text-to-speech translation.

It’s not necessarily the sight that determines our success. It’s our ability to see the vision.

Lex Gillette

Sight School Inc. is dedicated to empowering all ages with visual impairments through adaptive sports, community engagement and advocacy for an independent and inclusive life.

One of the primary objectives of Sight School is getting visually impaired individuals involved in physical activity. “In a perfect world, everyone would be able to go into a gym to work out, without needing to be tethered to another individual: How many pounds you’ve placed on the squat rack; how many miles you’ve run on the treadmill; how many calories you’ve burned, and how to navigate to the smoothie bar.”

“Technology,” says Gillette, has been the great equalizer for us.”

Through AI, Gillette can understand his surroundings in ways previously inaccessible to him. Technology can provide verbal descriptions of his environment, such as airport departure screens. Translation apps allow him to communicate with athletes halfway across the globe, identify healthy recipes, manage mobile banking, and hear a visual description of a photo starring him and his young son.

Furthermore, Gillette has found a powerful tool for living more autonomously and engaging more deeply with the world, showcasing the transformative potential of technology in the lives of individuals with visual impairments.

“I like showing the world that with the right tools and resources literally anything is possible.”

  1. Seeing AI is designed to help visually impaired people better understand their surroundings. Utilizing the power of AI, it can narrate the world around the user, reading out texts from documents, identifying products via their barcodes, recognizing friends and their emotions, and describing scenes, objects, and colors.
  2. Copilot for Microsoft 365 integrates AI across Microsoft’s productivity suite to automate tasks, generate content, and provide analytical insights, essentially acting as an intelligent assistant that helps users with their work across various applications like Microsoft Word, Excel, and Outlook.
  3. Microsoft Teams supports speech-to-text transcription and captioning for meetings and calls, powered by Azure Cognitive Services, making it easier for people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing to participate in online communication.
  4. Outlook, Microsoft Edge, and PowerPoint include a read-aloud feature, powered by Azure Cognitive Services, that uses text-to-speech technology to read web pages, documents, and emails aloud.
  5. Microsoft Translator is a translation service that supports speech-to-speech, text-to-speech, and optical character recognition (OCR) to enable communication across different languages and formats in Microsoft Teams or Outlook.
  6. Windows Hello uses facial recognition technology, powered by Azure Face API, to allow users to log in to their devices with their face, making it easier for people with mobility disabilities to access their devices.
  7. Microsoft Windows and Xbox include voice assistants powered by speech-to-text technology, which can be used by users of all abilities to control the device and access information and services through voice commands.

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