The AI for Accessibility panel with UTS academics and students was a highly anticipated event at the AI x L&T week. You can review the personal insights shared by student panellists Siena and Raeanne in a previous blog by event co-facilitator Renee Jones. 

Here we share highlights from our two academic panellists Professor Leslie Loble (AM) and Fiona Given, who shed light on how AI is aiding students and enhancing accessibility. Observations are drawn from Leslie’s high-level perspective in educational technology and AI research and Fiona’s practical insights as a user of multiple writing tools in her work and communication.

Meet our academic panellists 

Professor Leslie Loble (AM) is a recognised leader in public purpose reform and has driven major innovations in education and policy in Australia and the US. Her 20-year tenure as Deputy Secretary in the NSW Department of Education led to key reforms in school funding and teaching quality. In 2022, she was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for her education and public administration contributions. She is currently an Industry Professor at UTS and a Paul Ramsay Foundation Fellow.

Fiona Given brings extensive legal expertise and valued perspectives to the discussion on disability and communication. She has served as a general member of the Guardianship Division of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal for over 10 years, and sits on the board for Assistive Technologies Australia. Fiona’s expertise and lived experience uniquely inform discussions on disability, communication, and the transformative power of assistive technology in fostering inclusivity. She is currently a Research Assistant at the UTS Graduate School of Health.

What are the key roles of AI in education? 

Digital inclusion rests on access, skills and capability to use the tools as well 

Professor Leslie Loble (AM)

During her presentation, Professor Leslie Loble (AM) highlighted the critical role of AI-enabled technology in education. With a specific focus on generative AI, she talked about its potential benefits and risks, noting that AI tools such as screen readers and study aids have significantly improved accessibility and inclusivity in education. However, she emphasised the need to ensure comprehensive AI protections for all user groups.

[talking about edtech in schools] Education has to be the principle consideration, and technology the second.

Professor Leslie Loble (AM)

Drawing from her research in school education, Professor Loble emphasised three key categories of education technology: student applications, tools for educators, and institution-level tools. She emphasised the importance of prioritising quality, effective use, and strong governance to maximise the benefits while minimising risks associated with these technologies. 

It’s really crucial that we increase our funding in the professional development space. 

Professor Leslie Loble (AM)

Furthermore, Professor Loble pointed out the critical need for equity in the digital realm. She indicated that unequal access, affordability, and skills hinder digital inclusion, posing a significant risk of a learning divide. Addressing these issues is paramount to ensure a fair and inclusive educational landscape. Professor Loble’s report outlines several policy solutions to address these challenges.  

What are the benefits of AI tools for students with disabilities? 

Fiona relies on assistive communication technologies to enhance her communication experience. Her exploration of AI technologies like ChatGPT has revealed the potential benefits of saving time and maintaining professionalism, empowering her to read, check, edit, and authorise outputs that accurately reflect her intended meaning. 

Highlighting the positive impact of AI technology, Fiona discussed how tools like ChatGPT could assist in drafting assignments and enhancing communication efficiency. She emphasized the importance of responsible use and the need for users to edit and verify information to ensure authenticity. 

If I had gone through uni in the GenAI era I may not have had those battle scars [from having to produce so much written text]  

Fiona Given

Despite acknowledging the limitations and potential pitfalls of AI, such as cultural biases and inaccuracies, Fiona expressed hope for the continual improvement and integration of AI in communication devices. She highlighted the importance of cross-checking information and conducting thorough research, especially in educational contexts, to ensure the accuracy of generated content. 

In conclusion, Fiona emphasized her commitment to refining her interactions with AI technology while advocating for its responsible and inclusive use in the educational landscape. 

Key takeaways on the use of GenAI as an accessibility tool in education 

Both Professor Loble and Fiona recognise the transformative impact of AI tools in the educational space, particularly for individuals with disabilities.  

Professor Loble emphasises the crucial role of AI-enabled technology in promoting accessibility and inclusivity in education, indicating the need for robust safeguards and ethical considerations to mitigate potential risks. She spotlights the significance of quality design, effective integration of AI tools into educational programs, and strong governance to maximize the benefits while ensuring equitable access and inclusivity for all learners.  

Fiona, drawing from lived experiences, highlights the practical benefits of AI tools like ChatGPT in facilitating tasks for students with disabilities, enabling efficient communication, and enhancing professionalism. While acknowledging the limitations and potential ethical concerns of AI, Fiona stresses the importance of responsible use and independent research. 

Further reading and resources

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