Tag Archives: ICT4D

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…


Tibet, video and Human Rights

I am a big fan of the organization, Witness, and a recent project of theirs is called the HUB. Its kind of like YouTube for human rights.  It will be interesting to see how the project goes – it has its pros and cons, but here is a good example of its use.
Note that the video that is imbedded on this page is actually sitting on YouTube’s servers, but the group is using Witness’s HUB because it has the functionality to lead viewers to do something to help. This is a function that YouTube has lacked for a long time. With the creation of their Nonprofit Channel, they are addressing it, but it is yet to be seen how effective it will be.
So, please visit this page, watch the video, then take one of the actions. This is a very important situation – these protests are the most violent in almost 20 years. The Chinese gov’t say only 16 people have died, but its more likely to be upwards of 80.
International concern is growing as a result of house-to-house raids, imposed curfews, numerous arrests, and increased media repression. 
The Chinese government has reportedly placed restrictions on international media coverage in Tibet, blocking or filtering websites like Yahoo! and YouTube and censoring the local feeds of news agencies including the BBC and CNN. However, eyewitness accounts, photos, and videos (mostly from cellphones) are making their way out — and onto the Hub.   
Three things you can do now:
1) Forward this!- help keep the spotlight on Tibet;
2) Watch the latest videos on Tibet and take action on the HUB’s Tibet action center
3) Upload or embed – if you have or see Tibet-related video, photos or audio. You can also email the HUB.
Also, let me know what you think about the HUB.
Did you take one of the actions?
Why/why not? 


Monks and Mobile Phones

Monk with Cig and Cell

Not an image that comes easily to mind, but its one that is a big concern for police and government officials in Burma. As thousands of monks demonstrate in pro-democracy rallies in Myanmar, Burmese officials are cutting off a main channel of communications- cell phones. According to Agence France-Presse, the military government has cut off cell phone service to anyone it deems sympathetic to the pro-democracy movement. This includes both activists and some journalists. AFP has requested their reporters cell service be turned back on.

The military government warned last Sunday that it would take “effective action” against those supporting the demonstrations. Since then about 50 cell phone services and at least one land line has been cut off. Look for cell phone video of protests online on Burma Digest’s website.

In case you need it, here is report from the BBC to catch you up on the situation in Burma.

Google Launches “Outreach” for Nonprofits

I find this very exciting and intriguing. I will keep an eye on this to see what uses people come up with, and how popular it becomes. It will certainly be a great attention getter for some NPOs, and will help with some advocacy. How it affects their donations is yet to be seen….

From CNET:

Google Earth announces formal nonprofit initiative
Posted by Caroline McCarthy
At an event in Google’s New York offices on Tuesday, the company unveiled a new initiative to make its Google Earth geography software a more accessible tool for nonprofit organizations.

“We’re now officially launching a program called Google Earth Outreach,” said John Hanke, director of Google Earth and Maps. “Google is stepping up and validating this as a bona fide program that will be staffed in our group.”

Google Earth Outreach is now live, and several downloadable layers from the program’s inaugural partners–the Global Heritage Fund, Earthwatch and Fair Trade Certified–are now available online.

The new Outreach program came about, according to Google executives, because the company saw the diverse range of ways that the software was being used. “We just completely didn’t see the majority of uses for Google Earth,” Hanke said. “I think it’s blown away everybody on the team.”

Nonprofit uses, particularly those pertaining to environmental and humanitarian causes, have proven to be one of the most prolific uses for the software. “We think that the technologies we’re developing can be an important catalyst for education, for sharing information, for advocacy, to address global and local issues that affect everyone around the world,” said Elliot Schrage, Google’s vice president of global communications and public affairs.

Organizations can now apply for grants for the Google Earth Pro program, which normally costs $400 per person per year, as well as technical support for its Keyhole Markup Language, which Hanke described as “the HTML of marking up the Earth. It’s pretty easy to use,” he added, “but it’s a new thing, so it needs to be explained.”

The wildly popular, information-heavy Google Earth software has not been without critics who have suggested that perhaps it’s unwise to make so much detailed mapping data freely available over the Internet.

In response, Google has repeatedly stressed that the benefits of the Google Earth software outweigh the drawbacks. Over the past year, different organizations have utilized the tool as a way to promote tourism, animate the spread of a hypothetical virus and highlight architectural marvels.

In April, Google formally partnered with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to create downloadable map layers to help visualize the humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan.

It was the success of the Darfur layer, which Schrage described as “an incredibly vivid, powerful way of informing people what is going on in a faraway part of the world,” that ultimately convinced the company to devote more Google Earth resources to the nonprofit initiative. “We believe that Google Earth can revolutionize the way people see the world around them,” he added.

The announcement featured a videoconference appearance by legendary activist and humanitarian Jane Goodall, whose Jane Goodall Institute has been using Google Earth as a tool for some time now.

“When I began in 1960, my tools consisted of a paper and a pencil,” she said to the audience. “That’s putting the Jane Goodall Institute into a whole new era, and it’s a very, very exciting era…it’s certainly helping us hugely with our conservation efforts.” Thanks to Google Earth, the Jane Goodall Institute now has a “geoblog” that’s “a soap opera for wild chimpanzees.”

Hanke said near the end of the event that footage of the conference will later be uploaded to the Google-owned YouTube video-sharing platform.

World Refugee Day (ii)

Afghan Refugee

June 20 is World Refugee Day. What do you know about the world’s refugee problem? Did you know there are more than 40 MILLION refugees in the world today? And that rather than shrinking, that number is growing? Between 2005 and 2006, the number of refugees increased 14% to a total of 9.9 million!
The largest group were the 2.1 million Afghans still living outside their homeland. The Iraqis were second, followed by 686,000 Sudanese; Somalis, 460,000 and people from Congo and Burundi, about 400,000 each. (The 9.9 million total does not include the 4.3 million Palestinian refugees nor 24.5 million internally displased persons, who are basically refugees who have fled to other parts of their own country)

In Quetta, Pakistan, the government and UNHCR are agressively working on repatriating Afghan refugees by closing two camps, Pir Alizai by July 31 and Girdi Jungle, by August 31. These are in addition to the camp closings along the North Waziristan tribal area near the border by the end of this month.

The fastest growing population of refuess is Iraqi. Nearly 4 million people have been displaced by violence- 1.9 million within Iraq, and 2 million to neighboring countries. And those countries, Jordan, Lebenona, and Syria are beginning to feel the strain of hosting these new populations. According to Refugees International, “Syria and Jordan are rapidly becoming overwhelmed by the numbers of Iraqis seeking refuge in their urban centers. Jordan, Lebanon and Syria consider Iraqis as ‘guests’ rather than refugees fleeing violence. None of these countries allows Iraqis to work. Although Syria is maintaining its “open door policy” in the name of pan-Arabism, it has begun imposing restrictions on Iraqi refugees, such as charges for healthcare that used to be free. In Jordan, Iraqis have to pay for the most basic services, and live in constant fear of deportation. It is also becoming increasingly difficult for Iraqis to enter Jordan or to renew their visas to remain in country.”

And of course, there is Darfur. Years of fighting and violence has displaced more than 2 million people in the region, killed more than 400,00 and the violence continues.

In addition to protecting and capacity building, advocacy is one of the UNHCR’s major tasks. And how does one advocate in the 21st century? Video, the internet and email are a major part of today’s refugee advocacy.

Darfur Is Dying is the result of competition bringing together technology and activism to help stop the genocide in Darfur. It is a “narrative based simulation where the user, from the perspective of a displaced Darfurian, negotiates forces that threaten the survival of his/her refugee camp.”

Eyes on Darfur is an amazing project by Amnesty International using high resolution satellite imagery to let you literally watch over 12 highly vulnerable villages in the conflict region. It is definatley worth a visit. Also available on the site is a way to send a letter to the Sudanese president and Ambassador in support of protecting these villages.

The Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC) has a page that allows you to email your congressional representatives to encourage them to pass legislation to:
-Sufficient funding for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and UN agencies
-Support for host governments and non-governmental organizations to provide shelter, health, nutrition, education, and other needs
– To protect the most vulnerable Iraqis such as women-headed households, unaccompanied children, or those in danger because they worked for the U.S. or a related Western organization.

Many humanitarian organizations have email campaigns. Make sure you check with your favorite to see if they have a special campaign for World Refugee Day.

Film & Video
Film is a very powerful media and it can be used for both education and advocacy.
FilmAid International‘s mission is to use the power of film to promote health, strengthen communities and enrich the lives of the world’s vulnerable and uprooted. In East Africa, Afghanistan, Macedonia and the US gulf Coast, FilmAid Int’l has several programs, including evening feature screenings, daytime educational screenings, a participatory video project called “My Reel Life,” and a youth video exchange project for displaced hurricane Katrina victims.

To learn more about refugees, and their lives and struggles, whether in camps, repatriated to their home country or relocated to a new one, PBS’s Point of View Documentary series has two new films airing this season.

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars
If the refugee is today’s tragic icon of a war-torn world, then Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, a reggae-inflected band born in the camps of West Africa, represents a real-life story of survival and hope. The six-member Refugee All Stars came together in Guinea after civil war forced them from their native Sierra Leone. Traumatized by physical injuries and the brutal loss of family and community, they fight back with the only means they have — music. The result, as shown in “Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars,” is a tableau of tragedy transformed by the band’s inspiring determination to sing and be heard. A Diverse Voices Project co-production.

Rain in a Dry Land
How do you measure the distance from an African village to an American city? What does it mean to be a refugee in today’s “global village”? “Rain in a Dry Land” provides eye-opening answers as it chronicles the fortunes of two Somali Bantu families transported by relief agencies from years of civil war and refugee life to Atlanta, Georgia, and Springfield, Massachusetts.

Development Radio Goes to Afghanistan

(A special thanks to Jayne in Kabul for bringing this to my attention)

A new radio program has hit the airwaves in Afghanistan. “Let’s Build Our Village” is a soap opera that helps Afghans from Kabul to the rural regions learn about such development issues as democracy and women’s issues. The full article is from US News and World Report.

While development centered soaps may be new in Afghanistan, they have been used for years in other parts of the world. One particularly successful TV soap is called “Sexto Sentido.” Redlizardmedia.com describes it best this way: “If the characters of ‘Friends’ were teenagers, lived in Nicaragua, and had a social conscience to deal with personal and social problems and the importance of solidarity, the result would likely be “Sexto Sentido,” Nicaragua’s only homegrown novela. In just one season this ‘social soap’ has captured 70% of the TV audience in its time slot.”

In one episode the teens are in class and there is a lecture about HIV/AIDS. The director told the extras in the scene that the actors playing the lecturers actually were HIV positive. This way the extras would have genuine reactions, and some were afraid to shake hands. After the shoot the director told them the truth and discussed with them their feelings and opinions. This “after the show” discussion was also shot and aired in the series.

There is a documentary about the development and creation of Sexto Sentido, called Novela, Novela. The official site is in Spanish, but a great Enlish description can be found on the Media that Matters Film Festival Website.

A New Ecosystem for Trade?

Do you remember in the 1991 movie City Slickers, when Billy Crystal’s character is participating in his son’s career day at school? In an attempt to explain his radio advertising sales job, he comes to the conclusion that, “Basically, I sell air.”

Well, he’s not the only one. Turns out air, at least air time, is becoming a hot commodity. A tradeable one, too. In lesser developed countries where cell phones are king, people have begun using air time as currency.

People have long been purchasing air time, then selling it on the streets or renting out mobile phones with air time in more rural areas. But now we are seeing that air time used as currency for other goods and services. So, for example, if I wanted to purchase a coke, rather than pay for it with cash, I could pay for it with cell phone air time. I would simply transfer my minutes to the vendor. Its a relatively new system that is taking off like wildfire. Banks and networks have taken notice and are creating mobile banking systems to accomodate. Its a fascinating example of how communications is changing the developing world.

Read the report on iAfrica.