November GDRL Summary now Online

November 22, 2010

November 16th and 18th GDRL Teleconference Summary

USICD would like to thank everyone who was able to participate in the two international Skype teleconference calls on the Global Disability Rights Library, held on November 16th and 18th.  For those who were unable to make the call but are still interested in learning more about the project, we plan to host more calls in the future, including a call aimed at the international community based in Asia.  Here we are providing a summary of the important points and questions raised on the two calls as a service to those who were unable to participate, as well as to those who would like a more comprehensive follow-up to the conversation. 

The purpose of the calls was to introduce the Global Disability Rights Library (GDRL) to those new to the project, and to offer ways to get involved in this exciting process of information dissemination.  The GDRL is a collaborative effort between the U.S. International Council on Disabilities (USICD) and the University of Iowa WiderNet project, with funding support from USAID.  David Morrissey, Executive Director of USICD, joined USICD GDRL Program Manager Andrea Shettle and WiderNet Director Cliff Missen to explain the fundamentals of the project, as well as field questions from participants about the types of content found in the GDRL the need for donated digital content for the library. 

David Morrissey welcomed teleconference participants and described how the GDRL can serve the global disability community. He recognized that the USICD community and people working in the field of disability rights know firsthand the importance of information and knowledge, and how knowledge has the power to transform lives, transform society and communities, and to tear down walls of exclusion and marginalization.  People with disabilities are too often denied that opportunity to access knowledge.   People in developing countries in particular face barriers to knowledge, whether or not they have disabilities.  In many developing countries, fewer than 5 percent or sometimes 1 percent of the population have any kind of Internet access at all.  The eGranary and the GDRL work to overcome those limitations, and to expand the wealth of information available on the internet to some of the people who need it most.    He said, “This project is really about resource collecting, reaching out to you, our colleagues in the field of disability rights, to make sure that your good work is included in the Global Disability Rights Library.  This project is not about USICD creating new materials, but rather, building bridges between DPOs around the world via this new technology.”  The GDRL will draw the best materials and experiences that world disability rights organizations and service providers have to offer to provide resources to millions people with disabilities, policy makers, and advocates across the world. 

Cliff Missen discussed the underlying technology of the eGranary and the history of the WiderNet Project.  The WiderNet project recognizes that “what most people in this world call a digital divide is really an economic divide.”  WiderNet works to help organizations set up their first information technology systems, providing coaching and training on using low-cost, high-impact digital technologies.  “Our mission is finding low-cost ways of getting people connected and communicating and having access to information,” he said. 

“One of the things that we see consistently across the board is a lack of Internet connectivity.  Right now seven out of eight people in the world don't have reliable Internet access, and those in the developing world who have access, it's often very expensive, very slow, and very unreliable.”   The eGranary is a 2-terabyte hard drive that can be connected to individual computers or Local Area Networks to be shared among thousands of people at the same time.   Whole universities can connect to the more than 14 million digital resources stored on the device.  In some places, the eGranary is hooked up to a wireless router to broadcast access to this material to whole neighborhoods, all at connection speeds far faster than internet connections in the United States.  With the eGranary, users can open up a 200MB video in seconds; Any kind of information is at people’s fingertips.

Click Here to Learn more about how the eGranary works.

The eGranary contains huge stores of information, including the entirety of Wikipedia, the Center for Disease Control website, and the Gutenberg Project, with digital copies of 25,000 books in the English language.  All of these sites can be accessed using an interface that is similar to the most popular search engines and web browsers used today.  But many people in areas with limited internet access lack the years of technology literacy that we have built up by using computers and searching the internet.  That is why the eGranary also includes the concept of Portals, an organization system that allows users to browse through topic areas to find digital content they are looking for.  In fact, this portal system has proven to be the most popular aspect of the eGranary in the field.   The GDRL is a large Portal in the eGranary that organizes and catalogs websites and digital resources on Disability Rights in logical, easy to navigate ways.  

Andrea Shettle discussed the purpose and desired content of the GDRL.  She described how the GDRL is guided by an International Advisory Board, a group of experts in fields relating to disability rights such as Independent Living, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and Women with Disabilities.  These advisory board members come from 10 different countries in the world and the majority are people with disabilities themselves.  But though the project has a strong network of contacts and advisors, reaching out to experts and practitioners in the field of disability rights is indispensible to the GDRL effort.  It is disabled peoples organizations and human rights advocates that are developing materials and hosting content on their website, and this will be the content that makes the GDRL such a powerful tool.

The Global Disability Rights Library will cover a wide range of topics related to human rights for people with disabilities and to fighting poverty among people with disabilities.  It can be in the form of websites, videos, PDF or Word documents, Audio, interactive online courses, anything that can be digitally distributed.  Some high priority content includes information on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Accessibility, Capacity Building for Disabled Peoples’ Organizations, Policy and Legislation, Advocacy, and many other topics.  Advisors and people with disabilities in the field continually report that they need practical manuals, toolkits, “best practice” stories, and other materials that can be translated into real action.

Click Here to read more about desired content for the GDRL
and read an account of Andrea’s talking points.

Cliff Missen discussed how the second phase of the project, once resource collection and cataloging is underway, will be the initial 60 GDRL-equipped eGranary installations.  The first demonstration units will be distributed for field trials as early as this December.  Therefore part of the mission of the next few months is to determine the best universities, DPOs, or other places to deploy the first GDRLs.  Anyone with specific recommendations about organizations in the field that have a mission to distribute disability rights information is welcome to nominate them as a potential deployment site. 

The application form for GDRL deployment sites is available here 

David Morrissey noted that the GDRL has already connected with “a number of partner organizations to share content with us and also to act as our colleagues and champions in advancing this project.  For example, both the Harvard Project on Disability (HPOD) and the Global Partnership for Disability and Development (GPDD), have agreed to share their content in the GDRL.  Disability Rights Promotion International, DRPI, out of Canada, likewise, has volunteered to share their content. As many of you know, they are working very hard in the area of developing monitoring resources around the CRPD.
We've also received wonderful letters of support from many of our colleagues that are helpful to us as we now work to identify countries and communities and disabled peoples organizations where we can send the Global Disability Rights Library.”

A question from a conference participant prompted discussion on content updates for the library.  Because the purpose of the eGranary is to bring material to places with limited or no internet access, it is very difficult for these organizations and institutions to receive regular updates.  But WiderNet is working on ways to distribute updates over CDs, DVDs, and flash drives to continue to update vital content beyond the material included in the eGranary.  Similarly, WiderNet is exploring ways to leverage limited internet connections to enable “asynchronous participation” in web discussion and web-based academic courses. 

Cliff explained that, “There's one last feature of the eGranary of which I'm extraordinarily proud.  That is something that we call the community information platform-- a set of tools that people who have the eGranary can use inside the eGranary to upload and share their own content with people on their network. It involves tools like a built-in Web editor, which lets users make unlimited number of websites and edit the pages with ease. It involves tools like Moodle, which is a course management software, and Word Press, which is a blogging software. We find that when people see themselves in the technology, they get more enthusiastic about it.  So many communities are very hungry to be able to tell their stories to themselves and share their stories with the outside world.”

Another participant asked about accessibility and GDRL material in non-English languages.  Cliff responded that the WiderNet project is working with accessibility experts to identify tools that can be used for accessibility.  It will be pulling together a collection of the best open source and free resources that people can use to make the documents accessible.  WiderNet is exploring ways to customize eGranaries, to include automatic installers for users to choose a piece of technology to be installed directly to their computer.   The project currently does not have the capacity for mass language translation projects, but is always looking for content in a variety of non-English languages.  In the future, the goal is to develop a program to translate key documents for wide distribution in other languages, but for now the library features only the range of translated materials that already exist.

Finally, Cliff discussed how the eGranary and the content of the GDRL will actually be distributed in two ways.  First, it will be available on the eGranary unit to subscribers in the developing world, as has been described above.  But also, the GDRL Portal and other Portals will be available to users with internet connections, allowing internet connected users to benefit from the work of collecting and cataloguing this huge compendium of Disability Rights resources by using links found in the GDRL portal. 

Participants who have websites and who host material on disability rights may soon receive a request from GDRL librarians to donate digital materials to the GDRL project.  We hope that you will respond in the affirmative and allow your material to be spread and distributed far beyond the internet-connected world.  We are always looking for more content.  If you have recommendations for interesting or valuable resources, feel free to contact GDRL librarians at gdrl@usicd.org or at librarian@widernet.org

Learn more about the GDRL at:

http://www.gdrl.org and at http://www.usicd.org/index.cfm/global-disability-rights-library