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Tech Literacy, Tech Creativity, and the GDRL

July 2, 2012

Ellis travelled across East Africa in May and June to provide technical support and guidance for installations of USICD’s Global Disability Rights Library in the countries of Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. Below is the second of a series of reflections on his travels and work abroad. Read the first blog in this series here.

Map of GDRL Deployment sites in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda

Map of GDRL Deployment sites in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda

One of the central priorities of Global Disability Rights Library (GDRL) country visits are the technical and content trainings that we offer for deployment site representatives.  We invite IT specialists or librarians from each site to attend a central training in which we can demonstrate and discuss the library installation process and explore navigation and content of the eGranary.  In Kenya this training was held at the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights in Nairobi, which played host to eight other organizations from as far as Kibwezi and Kabarnet, and as nearby as Westlands and Kibera in Nairobi.

Arriving early in the morning, Angela Lak, the GDRL Regional Representative from Uganda worked with KNCHR’s IT staff to install the GDRL server to their network. Before too long, the organization was hosting the GDRL and other eGranary resources on their local area network.  As I demonstrated the contents of the library, highlighting Swahili language and New Zealand Sign Language translations of the CRPD, as well as toolkits for disability rights legislation advocacy and guides for creating grassroots advocacy comics, training participants were able to explore topics related to their own work, from informational content on intellectual disabilities to tools on water and sanitation systems.

Because all of the deployment sites in Kenya are new to the GDRL project, Angela and I set off across Nairobi to help install and network the libraries.  As we plugged in the proxy server information to each of Action Network for the Disabled (ANDY)’s computers, their internet café computers lit up like streetlights with the GDRL portal interface beaming out.  Before we even finished testing the network at the Kenya Union of the Blind, IT staff and librarians set to work creating new webpages for the library using the Community Information Platform.

But what excited me about these installation experiences was how the IT managers and librarians were making the library their own.  For typical users, their local organization’s staff will be the first line of support—an American IT person is irrelevant. So the key in these trainings and installations was to ensure that deployment site staff would be able to answer questions, offer surprises, and get community members excited about the library. In the process of installation, I left encouraged that the library would be in good hands with deployment site staff who are finding new ways to leverage the library to fit new programs and existing needs.

But the experience of trekking across East Africa installing libraries has also illuminated a truth: information access only has value when a person has the technical skills to use it.  So many people, both in my home in the U.S. as well as in East Africa and elsewhere, are intimidated or uninformed about computers.  In this way the GDRL is just one piece of the puzzle.  The library must be paired with IT training programs like those led by the Adaptive Technology Centre for the Blind in Ethiopia, or DeafAid Kenya and the Kenya Union for the Blind in Nairobi which offer opportunities for people with disabilities to learn vital computer literacy skills.  This trip has pointed me to some of the next steps for the library—to envision broader, more participatory and more inclusive training solutions to complement the core collection of the GDRL. The only question is how we will do it, and who will take the lead?

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