Tag Archives: Disability

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…

A global jam session for development

Next week the US government will host what they are calling a “jam session” for individuals interested in, or working in the field of international development. They are calling it Global Pulse, and it will be held, live and virtual, from March 29-31.

Ideas come from other ideas....lots of light nulbs emerge from one large bulb

Using the IDM “Innovation Jam” platform, they hope to have upwards of 20,000 participants sharing ideas and brainstorming on issues such as empowering women and girls, eual access to quality education, civil rights, global health, equitable trade and environmental protection.

Its a neat idea, and an interesting use of technology. All that is required is IE6 or Firefox 1.5 or above.

Oh, and a high speed internet connection.

While I understand the technical need for the high speed connection, I wonder how many people who should be a part of the conversation will be left out?

I’ll be attending the sessions as much as possible. I’m particularly interested in how the needs of people with disabilities will be addressed in the discussions, and I’m curious to find out how people in the field are using media and communications in their programs and ideas.

Stay tuned……

Digitizing books, one word at a time

(Thanks to Marty Kearns from Green Media Toolshed and Netcentric Campaigns for bringing this to my attention!)

The need to digitize books goes beyond being able to put them on your Kindle. People with various disabilities (not just sight-related) use on screen readers and other audio tools for school, work and pleasure. But the availability of books in digital format can be limited.

In this very interesting video, Carnegie Mellon University professor Luis von Ahn explains how he is using the brain power of you and me to help digitize books, one word at a time, through a program he calls ReCaptcha.

Glenn Close sets back Disability Rights 50 Years

Glenn Close has won an Emmy, a Golden Globe, a Tony, and has been nominated for an Oscar, but she still can’t seem to get a simple PSA right. She and her sister Jessie, who has bi-polar disorder, have recently launched a new campaign to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness- but are they doing more harm than good?

The main PSA for “Bring Change 2 Mind,” does anything but. It shows a crowded train station with hundreds of people milling through, with a few in white t-shirts. These t-shirts have titles and labels on them – such as from sister, better half, to schizophrenia to bi-polar. The purpose, I’m assuming, is to put a face to the diagnosis…

But, I have a real problem with this set up. You have PEOPLE wearing labels – isn’t that what disability rights activists have been fighting for years to overcome? When these individuals walk through the train station, we don’t see them as people, we see them as diagnoses. I don’t know Glenn Close’s sister’s name, but I know what her mental illness is…

When did we stop trying to put the person first???

And what about the people who are walking with the diagnosed? Their shirts have roles written on them- sister, battle buddy, better half. But the schizophrenics, depressed, and bi-polar  are sisters, brothers, better halves, battle buddies…..are they not?

How does this video show us that people with mental illness are real people too?

It’s doesn’t.

We are not learning anything about them as people, about their lives, their daily struggles… just their diagnosis. And in my opinion, that’s damaging.

Contrast that with a stigma reduction campaign I reviewed just a few days ago from Scotland, whose tagline is “See Me” (as in, not my diagnosis). In this campaign, the PSAs share the commonality of the experiences of the people with mental illness, AND show how the people who care for them helped them out:

At no point is anyone labeled. Instead, their situation is described, concrete things to do are suggested, and in the end mental illness doesn’t seem like something we need to freak out about! It doesn’t need to show famous people donning “I’m With Stupid” t-shirts.

The only redeeming factor of the “Bring Change 2 Mind” video is that at the end of the piece, the t-shirts fade to colors, and they meld into the crowd. This is a nice touch, but only goes to undo the damage that has already been done. We haven’t gained any ground.

The more I think about it, the more I hate this campaign. The tag  line is “Change a mind about mental illness, and you can change a life.”

But how, Glenn? How do we change a mind? By wearing diagnosis t-shirts?

This campaign gives us nothing but a famous person, revealing the “skeletons in her closet,” set to a John Mayer soundtrack.

(The press that the campaign is getting is equally sickening…..but I’ll save that for part deux, tomorrow)

Can social marketing reduce stigma?

This was one of the questions I addressed in my masters thesis this past summer. Specifically, I wanted to explore how different cultural interpretations of disability would affect communication efforts to reduce stigma in developing countries. More on that later.

As I was doing research, I came across a very interesting campaign from Scotland. The tagline is “See Me,” and they have lots of interesting uses of media in their campaign. In addition to tv and radio ads, they have photography contests, polls and downloadable curriculum packs. They also have a great collection of evaluation tools.

Each TV ad has a very clear target audience in mind, whether children or adults, the ads are aimed a people who know someone affected by mental illness. Take a look:

For children-

For adults-

(My favorite line from this one is, “Patterns change, friends don’t”)

(This one has some great brotherly ribbing, showing how their relationship didn’t change as a result of the mental illness)

Its the subtleties that I appreciate most in the ads for the adults. The ones aimed at children are clear and hopefully incite some empathy and understanding….

What do you think? Do you have some examples of stigma reduction social marketing that you found particularly good. Or bad?

Don’t let your work hide on a shelf!

Messy Bookshelf

Last semester I took a course on children in international development. It was an amazing overview of some of the particular development issues that hit children – child labor, trafficking, education in crisis, early marriage, HIV/AIDS to name a few.

The final project for the course was a case study and we were partnered up with others with similar interests. My partner and I decided to focus on interventions that are in place for young disabled Iraqi refugees in Jordan.

Not only did we have to turn in a paper, we also had to present our research to the class. So, rather than bore everyone with another power point, we decided to create a website.

But not only did this give us a different way to present, it also creates a ‘living document’ so to speak. It makes the information available to others, provides resources, and gives us a way to keep our work from hiding on a shelf somewhere. Because, really, what good is it going to do there?

So check it out! We incorporated videos, photos and all kinds of links!

Feedback is welcome!!

http://www.rwdjordan.wordpress.com

Photo: Home and Garden Webshots

Looking for bargains this Cyber Monday?

Cyber Monday marks the unofficial start of the online holiday shopping season… something akin to Black Friday for the brick and mortar stores.

There are deals and steals and bargains galore. Free shipping, 20, 30, 40% off, buy one, get one free…. you name it, you can find it online.

But don’t forget the nonprofits! Giving online is just as easy, fast, and much more rewarding as shopping online. And, there are bargains to be found, too.

For example, Google is providing fee-free processing for online donations for Pearls of Africa, which serves children with disabilities and their families throughout Africa.That means 100% of your tax deductible donation goes straight to the charity!

Now, THAT’s a deal!

To make a donation, please visit POA’s Donation page!

Thanks!

Disability and poverty go hand in hand in most countries

Today is Blog Action Day, and I’m taking part! On this day bloggers around the world are focusing on poverty, and hopefully encouraging their readers to take action!

I’m sure there will be lots of wonderful blog posts around the causes and solutions to global poverty – debt reduction, food crisis, international aid, disease…. its an unfortunate characteristic that global poverty encompasses so many ills.

But in so many aid programs around the world, people with disabilities are left out. Sure there are organizations that specifically address disability. But large scale development programs tend to ignore the unique needs of 10-20% of the population!

And its more than just about “being inclusive” or any other buzzword we hear these days. Poverty and disability have a unique relationship.

In most developing countries, people with disabilities have little or no opportunity to lead productive lives. In some areas, stigma and fear of disability in result in extreme discrimination. In others, its just outright bias. But in all areas where people with disabilities are excluded from basic life activities, poverty becomes the inevitable outcome. People with disabilities in developing countries are more likely to live on less than $2 a day.

On the other side of the equation, poverty often results in disability. Malnutrition, lack of clean water, and inadequate medical attention can all have disabling results. Add to the mix conflict, and you have a cycle of disability that is not easily broken.

Seven years ago I co-founded an organization called Pearls of Africa to support children with disabilities and their families throughout Africa. We’ve set up a library, held special education teacher training workshops, and look forward to several great new programs this year!

Since October is Disability Awareness Month here in the US, we are bringing the issue of disability in Africa to the forefront. Everyday this month we are featuring a country in Africa and what’s going on there in terms of disability. Its time we integrate our development assistance! I encourage you to visit the POA website and find out more yourself. Then pass it on- the only way we can raise awareness, is to share what we know!

Thank you, and happy Blog Action Day!

Just Who are the Bombers?

A few days ago I read a very disturbing article about the Taliban’s recruitment of people with disabilities. After yesterday’s suicide bombing in Kabul, I thought I would share it. The image that haunts me is of a man with obvious mental disabilities who had been recruited by the Taliban to be a suicide bomber. He showed the reporter where he would collect his payment after the bombing. He did not understand that he would die, too.

I cannot find that exact article, but here is one that explains the Taliban’s recruitment of people with disabilities.