Category Archives: Mobile

What the ICT4D Panel missed…

Technology can either provide increased access for people with disabilities, or it can result in greater alienation. In your experience, how have technology based development projects taken people with disabilities into account? Is accessibility something that is thought of in the design of the project, or is it mostly an afterthought?

This is the question I posed to the ICT4D: Innovation & the Millennium Development Goals panel at the UN Week Digital Media Lounge last week. But the answer I got from Wayan Vota, from Inveneo confirmed my suspicions (you can watch the panel below- my question begins at 37:14)
Vodpod videos no longer available.

I have 2 problems with Mr. Vota’s answer. First off, he said, “Most of the time we’re using tools that are already existing, so if the accessibility is built in we work with the accessibility.” OK. But just because a website meets Section 508 standards, doesn’t mean the person in Port-au-Prince has the hardware to access it.

But what he said next really blew me away.

He said, “Oftentimes in the developing world, accessibility has a different definition. Language is a huge accessibility factor. We’re all speaking English…but in many countries English is an elite language. And the local language… is not English. And often its not even a written language, just a verbal language. How do you transfer that to a device that you look at or that you read. And how can you expect the people in that community to read an English website and have any relevance with it whatsoever. Its definitely a challenge. And a lot of it has to do with getting the local people excited about writing with their own content.’

Wait…, what? People who use a non-written language need to write their own content? And, wasn’t I asking about people with disabilities? Not speaking English is NOT a disability.

Of COURSE language is an issue, but if your development project considers language an accessibility issue, you’re not working with enough local people. There are lots of examples of programs that created all their content in English, only to find the people they were trying to reach don’t read or speak English. That’s not a new problem, but it is a stupid problem.

A lack of literacy (in any language) is a different issue. And many solutions used to target people who don’t read also benefit people who can’t see. So, I guess in this case, development projects are accidentally making themselves accessible to people with disabilities?

But this doesn’t get to the heart of my question. Here we are with these great tools, fantastic technology and amazing potential to reach so many people. Are we?

Some studies estimate that 20% of people in developing countries have some form of disability. And in most of these regions disability and poverty dance around each other in an endless cycle. So why isn’t this a bigger focus?

How are people with disabilities included into these projects? Does, for example, the project that uses mobile SMS messages to remind TB patients to take their medications make use of accessible phones? Features like voice output, voice enabled menu navigation, keys that are identifiable by touch are just a few such features (the American Foundation for the Blind identifies 16 features most commonly used by people with vision loss). Are phones with these features being used in mprojects?  What about speech to speech relay (STS) – does that even exist in developing countries? Is it something that could be incorporated into projects? And people with dexterity problems or mobility issues? Are they included? How are their disabilities accommodated?

Mr. Vota’s “other kinds of accessibility” answer then skewed rest of the panel’s answers… Linda Raftree talked about broader access issues related to gender (certainly an important consideration, but not what I asked about).

I didn’t expect to hear that all the programs on the ground have a statistically representative disabled population (they should), but I had hoped to hear that accessibility for people with disabilities was being considered.  Maybe it is. But if it is, you couldn’t tell. My feeling is that if it were a bigger priority, it would have come up in the discussion…

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Media, culture and Azerbaijan

This afternoon I attended a brown bag lunch lecture at the World Bank on mobile technology and access to information. It was put on by Intermedia, an organization here in Washington DC that does amazing work on media research. (If you haven’t yet, you have to check out Audiencescapes).

There were at least half a million things I want to blog about in this presentation, so I’m sure you’ll see this referenced quite a bit in the coming days/weeks.

Although the presentation was about the increase of mobile technology and how it might be more integrated into various projects, the speaker, Dr. Gerry Power cautioned us not to forget about radio. In Africa, in particular, radio is still a major source of information, and to ignore it would be foolish. Mobile may be the fun thing to talk about now, but convergence is a more realistic solution.

But when I think of convergence, I think of old stodgey journalists finally learning how to blog. I guess I’ve been seeing it from the print/broadcast practitioner side of things. As opposed to the mobile producer side of things. But convergence, as Dr. Power’s hinted at, is more than that – its the sharing of content. Not only for the broadcaster’s sake, but for the mobile practioner’s sake, too.

A good example of this can be found in Azerbaijan and Armenia. State-owned media in both countries make it pretty hard to get any peace/reconciliation programming broadcast. So pieces that are originally created for television are instead getting audiences online.

Onni Krikorian, blogger for Global Voices, has been writing a lot lately about various media projects aimed at improving relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. He does an excellent job describing the projects and the media pieces themselves, so I’ll just post his links here. These are highly produced pieces that aren’t being broadcast via television, as intended, but instead are making it into homes via the internet and mobile.

Armenia-Azerbaijan: Dialogue through Film

More Dialogue through Film (one of my favorites is on this one- check out the film called Download)

and Backseat musical musings….and ethnic conflict

And of course, because its on Global Voices, the conversation going on after these posts are equally interesting.

There seems to be a lot of activity in media for change in the region. The very reason I became interested in Azerbaijan was because of a job posting for a media and social change project in Baku. (It made me realize how much I don’t know about the region!)

Its definitely a region I’ll keep watching…