AI to Help University Applicants with Disabilities

I've developed a special system for helping applicants with disabilities choose the right program and future profession. Learn more about what I've created in this blog.

Artem Meinov. Photo courtesty of the author.

I am a PhD student at the Faculty of Software Engineering and Computer Systems. A couple of years ago, when I studied at the University of Innsbruck (Austria), I noticed that when choosing a subject on the university website, there is a special icon next to the room number that helps to determine the convenience of attending this course for students with disabilities. And then a wonderful idea came to my mind, to make a system where the applicant can pass a short and quick test, which will help determine not only the specialty, but also the educational organization in which a student will be most comfortable to study taking into consideration their health profile. So I started to create a digital services assistant to correctly assess the characteristics of the medical condition and the educational needs of students with disabilities. I asked for help from the Center for Inclusive Education at ITMO University (CIE).

The cover of the ITMO University booklet for choosing an educational program. In Russian it says As early as in 2019, the CIE developed special material to help applicants choose their field of study based on their medical history. The material is a booklet with the following text written on the cover: "Are you applying to ITMO University? Make the right choice without limits!". When applying to ITMO university, students with disabilities were offered this material and the method described there to help them make the right choice. The special approach outlined in the booklet, takes into account a person’s current health status, the possible deterioriation of their medical condition, the probability of maintaining their health during their studies and further employment in the chosen specialty.

To develop this approach further, I’ve designed an electronic service assistant for choosing professions (EsaCP) which helps applicants with disabilities to choose a particular field of study in higher education. Using some aspects of the previous methods, it helps future students make a choice taking into account their individual health characteristics. However, it doesn’t take into account the potential for the students health to deteriorate over the course of their studies. However, it will include already formed preferences in choosing a future specialty. This assistant can be used in various educational institutions across the country. The development is being carried out jointly with the staff of ITMO’s Center for Inclusive Education including Svetlana Gnezdilova, the Director of the Center and Associate Professor, and Vadim Belyaev, Executive Director.

The first version of this special software has a web interface, where the applicant can answer questions posed. The answers to them are processed by artificial intelligence using the decision tree method. This method is well suited for the system because it is a hierarchical tree structure. Due to the training set, the rules are generated automatically during the training process.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters (@glenncarstenspeters) via Unsplash
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters (@glenncarstenspeters) via Unsplash

The client part (Frontend) is written using Django Rest framework and the web interface written in HTML and JavaScript. The user is presented with three questions on separate pages, two of which are mandatory. For the convenience of the student, there is the option of selecting a special mode for the visually impaired, in which the interface has a clearer and more contrasting background and text color with additional customizable color, size and font settings. Also, the background of the site adapts to the selected text color and vice versa.

At the end of the survey, a result appears with recommendations for choosing a field of study, as well as the educational buildings of the institution where the studies will take place. This program will help analyze the wishes and physical capabilities of the future applicant, and the right choice of specialization will allow you to be more productive in your new profession.

PhD Student