Tag Archives: ICT

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…

Virtual Violence

Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and there are lots of things you can do!

UNIFEM has organized a “Say No to Violence” campaign, and they are collecting signatures to deliver to UN Secretary General Ban Kim Moon. You can find out more, and sign the petition here.

I’m a little disappointed in this campaign – its seems a little thrown together. Nicole Kidman seems uninspired in her presentation of the issues, the videos are incredibly dull, it takes too long to figure out what we can do to get involved….

BUT, it is an important cause, and hopefully you join me in supporting it. After all, its the CAUSE, not the CAMPAIGN should support.

That being said, a campaign that I do find interesting (and worthy!) is Take Back the Tech.

From their site:

The root cause of violence against women (VAW) lies in unequal power relations between men and women in almost all facets of life. The field of information communications technology (ICTs) faces the same gender disparity. As a result, digital spaces like the internet, broadcast and telecommunications have become defined and developed according to dominant perspectives of masculinities.

This means that VAW that happened in physical spaces like the home and streets, are now also taking new forms and occurring in digital spaces. For example, domestic violence abusers have used tools like spyware and GPS to track and control their partner’s mobility.

Our right to move freely without harassment or threats to safety also applies to digital spaces.

This 16 day internet campaign’s goal is to “reclaim ICTs to end violence against women.” A great project, with some fun tools (widgets, a tech hunt, and the Ka-blog) and they have a different action idea for each day of the campaign. That’s 16 ways to make a change!

Today’s action is to Widget Your Stand, i.e. put widgets on your blogs and social network accounts.

They’ve also set up a forum for people to make their own activity suggestions.

Lots of good ideas in this campaign, fun use of tools, I wish the site were a little easier to navigate, but all in all a fascinating campaign – one I’ll be watching!!

As someone who spends a considerable amount of time online, I think its a great frame. What about you? Do you see this a real problem? Do you feel that violence against women is evident, or promoted, online?