Disability and AI Bias

Sheri Byrne-Haber, CPACC
6 min readJul 11, 2019

Researchers/legislation are focused on AI Bias with respect to gender and race. Few people are examining AI bias with respect to disability.

Four cartoon images of business people of different genders and races, each holding a white face mask partially covering their faces

In May, San Francisco passed an ordinance banning the city government from using facial recognition technology.

  • The primary concern exhibited by almost every group lobbying for or considering this type of legislation is gender or race discrimination.
  • One of the reasons frequently cited for the higher rates of false positives with respect to facial recognition for women, and especially women of color, is lack of robust data sets.

If you think about those concerns for a minute, the issue for people with disabilities is much much worse.

  1. Few people are examining AI bias resulting in discrimination against people with disabilities.
  2. There are fewer people with disabilities than there are women and people of color.
  3. The range of characteristics of disability is very, very broad.

Facial recognition will be biased against people with craniofacial differences

One of my daughters was born with a facial difference called Bilateral Microtia and Atresia. It means that both of her outer ears are not the size nor shape of what most people would consider “normal”, and her ear canals were incredibly narrow, almost invisible. An AI that uses ear shape or the presence of a canal in part to determine whether or not an image included a human face might not work correctly for people with this condition. Children with cleft lip or more severe craniofacial syndromes such as PRS, Treacher Collins Syndrome, Goldenhaar, and hemifacial microsomia just to name a few who have significant facial bone involvement are likely to experience the same AI bias, if not worse.

Pre-jaw reconstruction surgery and Post-jaw reconstruction surgery photos of a middle aged woman

Facial recognition will be biased against people who have had significant facial surgery

My daughter and I both had micrognathia. Our jaws were very small and extremely set back at a…

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Sheri Byrne-Haber, CPACC

LinkedIn Top Voice for Social Impact 2022. UX Collective Author of the Year 2020. Disability Inclusion SME. Sr Staff Accessibility Architect @ VMware.