First Look: 2023 Sight Tech Global agenda

The image has a background with a stylized illustration of an eye in various shades of blue. The text reads Sight Tech Global, A Virtual Conference, Dec. 6-7, 2023, A Vista Center Production.

Our fourth annual Sight Tech Global promises to be the most exciting and provocative yet. The impact of OpenAI’s generative AI technology is the biggest reason why, but so are many developments across the spectrum of technologies innovators are applying to assistive technology. Below is a sampling of 11 sessions on this year’s agenda. In the coming days we will release a half dozen more! Register today! The event is free, online, and on Dec. 6-7, starting at 8:a.m. Pacific.

It’s also time to thank to Sight Tech Global’s sponsors, whose support sustains the Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a 75 year-old 501 (c)(3) non-profit that helps the blind and visually impaired in the San Francisco Bay Area embrace life to the fullest through evaluation, counseling, education and training. Sight Tech is a Vista Center production and an all-volunteer effort. We are very grateful to sponsors META, Salesforce, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Waymo. Thank you.

Be My AI: What happens when a favorite accessibility makes the jump to AI?

Founded in 2015 by Hans Jørgen Wiberg, By My Eyes quickly established itself as a wildly helpful mobile phone app for people with no or limited vision. Today, more than 500,000 blind users rely on 6.8 million sighted volunteers (covering 180 languages) to take their call and, by looking through the camera on the blind user’s phone, describe what they see. 

The huge leaps in AI capabilities in the past year, however, have opened incredible possibilities.  Can AI do better than all those human volunteers? In September, Be My Eyes launched its chatGPT4 AI-based beta, “Be My AI” in an exclusive collaboration with the leader in generative AI, Sam Altman’s Open AI. We’ll hear from the Be My Eyes team about how they integrated AI, what they are hearing from thousands of users in the beta, and how humans are still in the loop – for now – and how they handle chatGPT’s tendency to “hallucinate.” 

Immediately after this session, the speakers will be available for live questions in a breakout session listed in the agenda.


Jesper Hvirring Henriksen, Chief Technology Officer, Be My Eyes
Aske Stampe, Product Designer, Be My Eyes
Mike Buckley, Chairman and CEO, Be My Eyes
Moderator: Greg Stilson, Head of Global Technology Innovation, APH

Where will AI take accessibility? A conversation with Mike Shebanek

At META, Mike Shebanek has a ringside view of the emerging AI universe. Not only is META one of the top contenders developing the most powerful generative AI models, it is a player in hardware as well, with the rollout later this year of the META Quest 3 AR/VR headset and Ray-Ban META smart glasses.That combined with leadership on the evolution of VoiceOver at Apple earlier in his career, provides Shebanek with almost unique perspective on where accessibility and assistive tech are headed. Are we nearing a time when critical technologies, like GPUs, sensors, and generative, multimodal AI might yield remarkable agents that were once the realm of sci-fi? Will we think of those technologies as purpose-built for people with disabilities, or will they be facets of something much bigger, a vision of universal design, the realization that all tech is assistive technology, to quote the artist and designer, Sara Hendren. 


Mike Shebanek, Head of Accessibility at META
Moderator: Ned Desmond, Founder and Executive Producer, Sight Tech Global 

Glidance: It’s not a cane. It’s not a dog. It’s a self-driving mobility aid.

For years, technologists have experimented with ways to assemble powerful new technologies like computer vision, digital navigation, and a variety of  sensors to help blind and visually impaired people navigate more easily. Former Microsoft engineer Amos Miller, who is blind himself, had an idea: why not create a device that uses multi-modal AI technology to guide users by attaching the familiar concept of a cane to a small, two-wheel assembly that guides with steering and brakes a user to their destination? Could people, especially those who lose their vision later in life, easily afford the device and use it right out of the box? That’s what Miller aims to deliver with Glidance.
Immediately after this session, Amos Miller will be available for live questions in a breakout session listed in the agenda.


Amos Miller, Founder and CEO, Glidance
Moderator: Josh Miele, Principal Accessibility Researcher, Amazon

Wisk: The people’s autonomous (and accessible!) air taxi 

“Where is my flying car?” is a longstanding Silicon Valley lament. Almost here, is the answer, and the startup Wisk is one of many startups closing in on that promise with an autonomous (no pilot), electric, 12-prop four-seater that’s more or less like a flying Waymo, only it will initially fly only pre-set routes to destinations like LAX airport from locations around LA. Beat the traffic, right? What’s remarkable about Wisk is how they are building accessibility into the Wisk experience from the start. That narrow staircase for passengers? Guide dogs need something wider. Check. 


Uri Tzarnotzky, Director of Product Design, Wisk
Saurabh Nimsarkar, Staff UI/UX Designer, Wisk
Moderator: Bryan Bashin, vice-chair, Be My Eyes

Andrew Leland on his instant classic: “The Country of the Blind” 

To lose one’s sight to the unpredictable course of retinitis pigmentosa is an experience many people with sight loss know all too well. In the US alone, there are an estimated 100,000 people with the condition, but there are not many who happen to be authors and journalists of considerable skill who can relate in a wonderfully compelling detail the very personal experience of  losing their sight while also starting a family, maintaining social and work connections, and navigating the many perspectives on blindness swirling in the American scene. Only human, not artificial, intelligence is on tap for this conversation with the author of the remarkable new book, “The Country of the Blind.” 


Andrew Leland, Author, “The Country of the Blind”
Moderator: Darryl Adams, Director of Accessibility, Intel

The timing for the release of APH’s Monarch tactile display could not be better

At Sight Tech Global we rarely track products from year to year, but APH’s Monarch tactile display for the education market is an important exception. APH’s collaboration with Humanware and DOT is targeted at the education market to deliver not just a ground-breaking dynamic Braille tablet that can “receive digital textbooks from APH and other providers, significantly reducing the time to fingertips for our students” and at the same time render the charts and graphs crucial to STEM education. Add to that the possibilities of the past year’s breakthroughs in generative AI, and Monarch’s horizon looks even more exciting. 

Immediately after this session, Greg Stilson will be available for live questions in a breakout session listed in the agenda.


Greg Stilson, Head of Global Technology Innovation, APH
Josh Miele, Principal Accessibility Researcher, Amazon

Why did the AI cross the street? The OKO app story.

Did that mechanical voice just say it’s safe to cross the street? It’s a dilemma every blind person faces when they are about to step off the curb. What if the camera on the back of your mobile phone could assess the signals and your path to make a crossing safer? A small team of AI engineers at the startup AYES took on that challenge and created the OKO app, which uses computer-vision-based AI to “read” the signals and suggest when it’s safe to cross. How does the app work and just how safe is it?

Immediately after this session, Michiel Janssen will be available for live questions in a breakout session listed in the agenda.


Michiel Janssen, Co-Founder and CEO, AYES
Moderator: Brandon Biggs, Engineer, SKERI

Seeing AI meets Generative AI – The View from Microsoft 

Microsoft’s Saqib Shaikh co-founded the Seeing AI app, which was one of the first deployments of AI computer vision in an app to help blind users “narrate the world around you” by using AI to describe nearby people, text and objects. Shaikh’s employer, Microsoft, is a leading investor in OpenAI, the organization that created the ground-breaking chatGPT, a type of AI called “generative” because of its ability to “generate” novel content in response to questions. Today, Seeing AI can tell you there is a chair in the room because it is “trained”  to identify a chair. With chatGPT, Seeing AI might be able to answer a random question it was not specifically trained for, such as,”Is there a cat in the room?” The answers chatGPT provides can be wondrous or wildly off base “hallucinations,” in the lingo of AI specialists. Can generative AI’s quirky nature be tamed for accessibility?


Saqib Shaikh, Seeing AI Co-Founder of Seeing AI, Microsoft
Moderator: Devin Coldewey, Writer & Photographer, TechCrunch 

Can we enlist AI to accelerate human-led work in alt text and audio description? 

To watch the recently released “All The Light We Cannot See” with audio descriptions “on” is a revelation, at least for a sighted person. The audio description uses words sparingly to augment the obvious soundscape and to call out subtle details anyone might easily miss. It’s art only a human team could produce (sorry AI proponents), but then it’s also expensive and time consuming. In that regard, producing alt text for images online or audio descriptions for video face the same challenge: how to do more and do it well. At Scribely and MAX, the human-first approach is uppermost, but they are also exploring how AI and related tech can be narrowly channeled to speed up their vital work.


Caroline Desrosiers, Founder and CEO, Scribely
Angela McIntosh, Senior Product Director for Accessibility, Warners Brothers Discover
Moderator: Thomas Reid, Host and Producer, Reid My Mind Radio

The Screen Reader Interoperability Gap – A Hidden Systemic Barrier 

At Sight Tech Global two years ago, we unveiled the ARIA AT initiative, which aimed to address the frustrating, damaging reality that screen readers are not interoperable on the Web, unlike their cousins for sighted users – browsers like Chrome and Safari. In other words,any developer that takes accessibility seriously has to test their code on JAWS, VoiceOver, NVDA and the rest. In this session, the people advancing the ARIA AT project  are back with a refresher, progress to report, and a call to action.


Matt King, Accessibility Technical Program Manager, META
Brett Lewis, Senior Software Engineer, Vispero
Isabel Del Castillo Solis, Access Technology Specialist, Prime Consulting
Moderator: Caroline Desrosiers, Founder and CEO, Scribely

Salesforce: The Office of Accessibility – four years on

Nearly four years ago, Salesforce stepped ahead in the tech and corporate world by announcing the formation of an Office of Accessibility, charged with pulling together all the strands of accessibility across the CRM giant, including workforce development, product development and design, and customer relations. Sight Tech Global touched base with the fledgling effort in 2020 and in this session we’ll hear what the accessibility team has learned after three years work to ensure every aspect of Salesforce embraces accessibility.


Paige Gulacy, Manager Accessibility Support Engineering, Salesforce
Derek Featherstone, VP of Accessibility and Inclusive Design, Salesforce
Kristian Burch, Director Accessibility Programs & Compliance, Salesforce
Moderator: Larry Goldberg, Accessibility Sensei & Technology Consultant

Stay tuned for more sessions announced in the coming days. We will publish the full agenda early next week. We are excited to see you at Sight tech Global! Register today!


Watch all recorder Sight Tech Global sessions from the 2023 event held on December 6th and 7th.