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Leaping over the last mile of digital connectivity

April 21, 2011

Here in the United States most of us take internet connectivity for granted. We are no longer amazed at the speed by which sports scores, local news, and celebrity gossip flutters across the nation and the world. Activists and human rights leaders talk about the new possibilities of advocates finding a voice through twitter and micro-blogging, and social movements led by young, tech-savvy leaders. But lost in this reverie is the reality that huge swaths of the world’s population have no access to the internet, and many more can connect only through painfully slow, prohibitively expensive connections.

Cliff Missen of the WiderNet Project likes to say that what we call the ‘digital divide’ is actually an economic divide. This means that billions of people in what many call the Global South are unable to follow Kanye West’s Twitter feed, sure, but it also means that university lecturers miss out on the latest developments in medicine, policymakers are slow to learn about new legislation in other countries, and DPO leaders are slow to learn from the successes and challenges of their peers working just a few hundred miles away.

For people with disabilities, who often are left out of national level development programs in developing countries and barred by social or systemic factors from employment and political participation, this divide is even more extreme. In an effort to bridge this divide, USICD has been working with the WiderNet Project  and USAID to build the Global Disability Rights Library, an off-line digital library that will bring a wealth of disability rights resources on for advocates, policymakers, and individuals with disabilities in developing countries who are unable to access them on the internet. The eGranary library units are then installed in DPOs, universities and other organizations to give hundreds or even thousands of users access to the resources stored inside.

The GDRL project leaps over that last mile of the connectivity gap that stymies disability community advancement and bars the sharing of online resources. Rather than waiting until internet connections wind their way to every last town and village, or praying that satellite internet costs miraculously drop, GDRL users will have tools at their fingertips. Policymakers and advocates will have DREDF’s disability law index that offers full text of disability legislation from all over the world. Community activists working to start a DPO can refer to Abilis Foundation’s Project Proposal Writing Manual. And engineers will be able to learn from the MIT Open Courseware course on Wheelchair Design in Developing Countries.

Change certainly is coming around the world for people with disabilities, but none of us can wait until internet connections are affordable for all and government funding is plentiful. The GDRL is doing its part to put practical tools in the hands of those doing the hard work to fight for disability rights around the world.

You can visit the Six Ways page to learn more about how you can contribute to the GDRL project.

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