Alibaba Supports Special Needs with Tech in China

Chinese tech leader Alibaba has helped thousands of people who have disabilities to find undifferentiated employment and live barrier-free in the past year, according to the annual report on helping those with special needs, jointly released by Alibaba and its philanthropy foundation.

According to the report, there are now 2,007 disabled people working within Alibaba. The company is also providing jobs to hundreds of thousands of disabled people, working as e-commerce staff, customer service agents, delivery personnel, data annotators and other positions on its various platforms and digital employment bases. And the company is offering professional skills training to these people.

Since May this year, Alibaba‘s Taobao has established a community for merchants with disabilities to provide customized store operation training. According to the report, 22.5% of disabled people’s first job is to open an online shop, while 39% of merchants with disabilities also employ others who have special needs.

In addition to supporting disabled people to work, the report also shows that Alibaba is using technology to bring more convenience to their lives. AutoNavi’s “wheelchair navigation” allows disabled people in wheelchairs to travel outside of their homes with ease while Taobao’s “OCR” picture reading technology allows visually impaired people to shop online. Research and development institute DAMO Academy’s digital sign language robot allows hearing-impaired people to better communicate with others. Video streaming platform Youku’s “barrier-free theater” processes pictures without dialogue in films, so that those with visual impairments can understand the content.

Up until now, fifteen apps under Alibaba, such as Taobao, Idle Fish, Youku, and Freshippo, have been upgraded to facilitate daily life for those with disabilities, covering online shopping, ordering, entertainment, social interaction, office work and medical treatment.

“The hardest thing about upgrading these products is not the technology, but empathy,” said Zhenfei Liu, director of Alibaba Foundation and president of AutoNavi. “What changes the world is technology, and behind the technology is love and responsibility.” In AutoNavi, after the user opens the “barrier-free mode”, the app will plan a barrier-free route for the user when traveling by subway, and can avoid outdoor sections where wheelchairs cannot pass, such as underground passages and footbridges.

AutoNavi’s “wheelchair navigation” (Source: Alibaba)

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Alibaba‘s public welfare platform has supported 23 projects to help those with disabilities, including their employment, hearing impairment, visual impairment and mental impairment. From 2016 to September 2022, the company has raised a total of 110 million yuan ($15 million). Representatives from more than 40 business segments of Alibaba also jointly launched an internal volunteer alliance last week, which allows like-minded partners to share information and resources to help those in need. In addition, Alibaba has cooperated with partners to establish an ecosystem of mutual assistance to help the disabled and solve more social problems.