Alibaba Deploys Inclusive Technologies to Help Elderly and Visually Impaired Access Daily Services

Digitalization brings about a more convenient life for society, but the needs of elderly and disabled people are underserved from time to time, or even derailed from mainstream development. Alibaba says it is committed to narrowing the digital divide through scientific and technological innovation, such as by upgrading to barrier-free services, introducing AI to disease screening, as well as by taking care of the needs of vulnerable groups.

More than 85 million disabled people and 260 million people over the age of 60 live in China, according to a report published this year by the science and tech research institute China Academy of Information and Communications Technology.

Zeming Wu, the chairman of Alibaba‘s Information Accessibility Committee, said the company will continue to use its technology and service capabilities to bring digital convenience to more vulnerable groups.

Over the past two years, teams from Alibaba, Alibaba Cloud and the DAMO Academy have launched at least four services to help people with disabilities and special groups.

Light Reading Plan – Braille Translator

At the end of 2020, Alibaba, together with the China Braille Library and Zhejiang University, launched the Light Reading Plan based on optical character recognition (OCR) technology, so that visually impaired people can participate in and perceive the development of the digital era.

A scanner-like device copies Braille text and converts it into patterns of dots with computer vision, a form of AI technology that can interpret and understand visual inputs. The device then translates the dots into romanized spelling for Mandarin and later into characters with natural language processing.

After a year and a half, the three organizations cooperated again in July this year to expand the application scenarios of its Light Reading Plan. For example, they offered to store the Braille alphabet library on the cloud, to provide free door-to-door delivery services from Cainiao, and to promote the Braille translator system in more special schools.

SEE ALSO: Alibaba Takes Part in Launch of Public Welfare Plan for Visually Impaired

Mini-Program for Alzheimer’s Detection

In 2020, 9.8 million Chinese residents had the degenerative disease Alzheimer, which affects memory and motor skills, according to The Lancet.

In September this year, the World Alzheimer Month, the DAMO Academy launched a mini-program which can finish early-stage and preliminary screening for Alzheimer’s in 10 minutes through Alipay, in collaboration with Alzheimer’s Disease China.

The elderly will be asked to respond in audio to cognitive test questions and pass a clock-drawing test in the Alipay app. The entire process takes around 10 minutes. The AI-powered app will make a preliminary assessment shortly after the test, then submit the preliminary assessment to a professional medical expert for review. If the screening result is deemed high-risk, the system will remind the user to go to the hospital for further clinical diagnosis.

Barrier-Free App Upgrades

Alibaba‘s Information Accessibility Committee announced in June that 15 of Alibaba‘s apps have been upgraded to be barrier-free, and that they will continue to upgrade in the future. The 15 apps, including Taobao,, Freshippo, Idle Fish, Youku and DingTalk, cover a variety of digital life scenarios such as online shopping, food ordering, entertainment and social networking.

For example, within the elderly mode of Taobao, the voice input button is put in the most prominent position on the homepage with an enlarged font size. Amap developed an elderly version by adjusting the map and font display ratio. Amap said last October that it would build over 10,000 ride-hailing stops across China in five years, covering communities, bus stops and other places where the elderly are more concentrated.

Set-Top Boxes With Real-Time Subtitles for the Hearing-Impaired

On the eve of the 2021 Lunar New Year, the first batch of subtitle set-top boxes, developed under the guidance of the China Association of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and provided by Alibaba‘s DAMO Academy for free with precise voice technology and computing power, were successively settled in hundreds of families and communities with hearing-impaired individuals in China, allowing them to enjoy live programs with real-time voice-to-text technology.

The subtitle set-top box can not only display pictures and auxiliary subtitles on the screen, but can also provide bilingual recognition and translation in Chinese and English when connected to cable TV, computers or mobile phones. Due to small errors and delays, many hearing-impaired people use this set-top box during online lectures and meetings.