More equal opportunities: How AI fosters an inclusive working world
Munich, 06 July 2023
Artificial Intelligence (AI) supports employees in the workplace. AI technologies can enable people with disabilities to perform new activities and allow them to participate in working life in a more self-determined and equal manner. However, the opportunities offered by the technology can only be exploited if the right framework conditions are in place in the world of work: These include (digitally) accessible workplaces, a corporate culture that promotes diversity, and consideration of people with impairments as early as the research and development stage. A current white paper from Plattform Lernende Systeme illustrates the potential of AI for an inclusive working world using concrete practical examples and shows ways in which AI-supported participation can succeed.
About the white paper
The white paper “With AI to more participation in the world of work. Possible applications and challenges” was written by members of the Future of Work and Human-Machine Interaction working group of Plattform Lernende Systeme. Affected persons and representatives of associations for people with impairments were involved in the development of the white paper in the context of a workshop. Some of the workshop participants themselves have their say in the whitepaper. The white paper is available for free download (in German).
Around 7.9 million people with impairments lived in Germany in 2020; about one third of them were of working age. Not least the increasing shortage of skilled workers requires that people with impairments be better integrated into working life. The Social Code stipulates that employers with more than 20 employees should allocate at least 5 percent of their jobs to severely disabled people or people with equal disabilities. AI systems can promote inclusion and participation in the world of work and enable people with impairments to work in a self-determined as well as meaningful way. Whether AI solutions that translate communication into sign language, virtual role-playing games with AI-controlled avatars for training social interaction, or AI-based glasses that enable people with missing upper limbs to control the cursor on the screen via head movements instead of a computer mouse – AI systems support affected employees where they reach their cognitive or physical limits.
However, in order to exploit the potential of AI technology, a rethink in companies and a system change in the world of work are necessary, according to the white paper “Mit KI zu mehr Teilhabe in der Arbeitswelt. Possible applications and challenges.” The recognition and appreciation of individual needs must be anchored in an inclusive corporate culture and barrier-free work organization. As different as we humans are, so are our ways of learning and working. Often today, however, AI systems are developed with broad target groups and large-scale marketing in mind, the authors emphasize.
“AI technology can be an important component of a diverse and equitable workplace. However, we need custom-fit assistance systems. People with impairments are not a homogeneous group. Even during development, the specific requirements of employees must be taken into account and also reflected, for example, in the training data,” says Angelika Bullinger-Hoffmann, Professor of Work Science and Innovation Management at Chemnitz University of Technology and member of the working group Future of Work and Human-Machine Interaction of Plattform Lernende Systeme.
The use of AI is also accompanied by risks that can exacerbate the exclusion of people with impairments. For example, AI systems can exacerbate disadvantage if they have been trained with data that does not include people with impairments. Representative training data is an important prerequisite for greater participation. The authors of the white paper recommend basing AI research on the usage data of people with disabilities. Development teams should also be diverse and employees with disabilities should be involved in the development and introduction of AI systems in the company.
Work can become more complex through the use of AI, and the demands on employees’ qualifications increase. For employees with learning difficulties, the necessary further training can represent a major hurdle. Educational offerings must therefore be barrier-free and available in easy-to-use language, according to the authors. AI tools could in turn provide support here by automatically translating learning opportunities or websites into easy-to-use language.