December GDRL Call Summary now Online

December 8, 2010

December Global Disability Rights Library Call Summary

USICD would like to thank everyone who was able to participate in the international Skype teleconference call on the Global Disability Rights Library, held on December 6/7, 2010.  For those who were unable to make the call but are still interested in learning more about the project, we plan to continue to host calls and are looking for other ways to reach colleagues and friends all over the world.  Here we are providing a summary of the important points and questions raised on the call as a service to those who were unable to participate, and to provide comprehensive follow-up to the conversation. 

The purpose of the call was to introduce the Global Disability Rights Library (GDRL) and offer ways to get involved in the exciting process of disseminating information.  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 USICD Research and Programs Associate Ellis Ballard 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.  He told participants, “You know that knowledge has the power to transform lives and to transform societies, to tear down the walls of exclusion and marginalization.  But people with disabilities are often denied the opportunity to access knowledge, and too much information is provided in formats that are not accessible.  Even when that information is accessible, it may be hard to find.”  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.    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. 

Ellis Ballard introduced the underlying technology and process for disseminating information in the Global Disability Rights Library:

      “The eGranary Digital Library is the culmination of 10 years of WiderNet’s work with organizations and universities in Africa and India.  They’ve found that what most people call the digital divide is really an economic divide, so the WiderNet project works to find low-cost ways of getting people connected and have access to information. 

      “The eGranary is a 2-terabyte hard drive about the size of a paperback book that contains large swathes of the internet—we call it the internet in a box.  WiderNet works with authors and publishers who have their information out on the Internet, who intend to share it with the entire world, and let them know about the lack of connectivity in much of the poor world, and we ask their permission to make a mirror copy of their website and distribute it.  WiderNet already has permission from hundreds of authors and publishers to replicate their websites, including all of Wikipedia, the Gutenberg Project, and the Centers for Disease Control. 

      “It works much like the internet—you open up the browser within the eGranary, type in search terms or type in a URL, and websites pop up instantly.  You can open documents, cut, paste, share, all the things that folks would do on the internet.  And all of this happens at blazing speed – eGranary users can open up a 200-mB video in less than a minute, where that same video would take days or weeks to download on local internet connections.  

      “The eGranary can be connected to a single computer, to a LAN network to be shared with a university, or even connected to a wireless router to function as a free public wireless library. 

      “Within this eGranary we have subsections called portals, which a guided, organized version of the internet.  Librarians on the project work through the most valuable material to organize and present it in many different views, so users with different needs and styles of learning can access it.  The GDRL is a catalogue of thousands of resources on disability rights, organized to allow all sorts of users to be able to easily and logically find resources they’re looking for.  This is an important component of this project.  Many of these users are seeing the internet for the first time, will need years of learning before they have the digital literacy of those who grew up using the internet.  With the GDRL we are engaging experts like yourselves to help identify the best resources for advocates, policy makers, and anyone else in the field, then organizing them to be as valuable as possible to the widest range of people we can. 

      “So in summary the mission is twofold: First is to pull together the best collection we can disability rights information and make it instantly accessible for people using the eGranary.  Then the second phase of this project is to go out and do 60 installations around the world, giving people the training, and resources to be able to start distributing this information in their areas.” 

Click below to learn more about how the eGranary works:

David Morrissey noted that the GDRL will also be available through standard internet connections, using the organizational system to allow internet connected users to find valuable resources and link to important disability rights websites as well. 

Andrea Shettle discussed the purpose and desired content for the GDRL:

“Ellis has told us about the technology of how the Global Disability Rights Library, the GDRL, will work when we begin to deploy it in the field.  But of course, the real heart of this project is the information and knowledge that the GDRL is meant to disseminate.  The most important purpose for this project is to circulate knowledge that advocates, policy makers, and organizations can use to improve the lives of people with disabilities in developing countries.  But what kind of knowledge will do that?  How do we know that we are gathering the right kind of materials and resources for the digital library?

      “USICD and the GDRL team believe in that old motto of disability advocates globally, “Nothing about us without us.”  We strive to listen to the people who we hope will benefit from the library.  We are doing a lot of this listening through our International Advisory Board, the IAB.  We do also use some informal approaches to gathering feedback.  For example, from time to time, we have visitors at the USICD headquarters office in Washington, DC.  These have included people from developing countries such as Uganda or Mongolia.  These visits are often an opportunity for us to learn more about the knowledge that people need in the field.   

      “We also have our International Advisory Board, the IAB, to help guide the process of building the GDRL.  The IAB has 10 full members from 10 different countries around the world.  In addition to the 10 members, we also have nine ex-officio members who are drawn from the USICD Board of Directors and from the University of Iowa faculty.  A majority of these 19 people are themselves people with disabilities.  They have expertise in topics ranging from independent living to women with disabilities to policy and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  They share with us not only their own expertise but also feedback from their strong network of contacts in the field.  If you come to the USICD website and click on the initiatives area for the Global Disability Rights Library, you can learn more about the IAB and about the project. 

      “As David explained earlier, one important goal for our teleconference call today is to ask each of you for your help in building the Global Disability Rights Library.  We know that many of you have a website or electronic publications, videos, reports, and toolkits.  We hope you will consider giving us permission to include your content in the GDRL.   We will need your permission in an email in our records before we can use your content.  We would love to hear from you any suggestions or recommendations you might have for content from other authors and publishers. 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.  Chances are, if your content is related in some way to disability rights, we will be interested.

Some high priority areas include:

  • The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is, of course, a key priority.  People in developing countries want to learn how to ratify, implement, use, and monitor the CRPD, and how to teach other people about the CRPD.
  • Accessibility is important.  People want to learn how to make public buildings accessible, how to make information accessible, and transportation, and schools, and their work places, and water and sanitation facilities accessible.
  • People with disabilities in developing countries tell us that they are coping with severe poverty.  They find it difficult to engage in the struggle for human rights when they are already engaged in the struggle simply to survive. We need materials that can help people with disabilities and policy makers and organizations learn how to fight poverty among people with disabilities.
  • Many disability organizations are also interested in capacity building.  How do they raise money for their organization?  How can they train new leaders to take over from the old leaders?  How do they learn how to manage a budget or design a wonderful project?
  • We need materials relevant to the needs of all marginalized populations within the disability community.  This means, as just a few examples, women and girls with disabilities, children and youth with disabilities, aging and elderly populations with disabilities, indigenous populations with disabilities, gay lesbian bisexual and transgender people with disabilities, ethnic and racial and linguistic minority groups with disabilities.
  • Some other important topics that people also bring up include independent living, formal employment and self employment, microfinance, policy and legislation, education for children and adults of all ages at all levels for people with all types of disabilities.
  • People with disabilities in developing countries say they are very interested in practical materials.  They want toolkits, training manuals, “best practice” stories, and other materials that they can translate into real action in the field. 
  • They want to read a toolkit at 9 am today and then immediately, at 9:05 am, go out there and use what they learn to make a difference in the real lives of real people.

“If any of you are aware of content in these topic areas or in other areas related to disability rights, please let us know.  We do want materials in all languages.

      “We also would love to work with you if you or your organization might be able to offer volunteer support.  USICD is accepting applications from people who want to do an internship with the GDRL.  We also would be delighted to have help from an organization that can help coordinate a team of volunteers to build a section of the library that is consistent with the mission of your organization.  We also can use help in raising awareness about the project among your contacts.  We hope you will consider linking to our website or mentioning the GDRL project in your next newsletter.

      “If you know an organization that might want to deploy the Global Disability Rights Library then we want to hear from you.  We are now accepting applications.  Some organizations may have difficulty applying if they cannot use our on-line application form.  We are hoping that those of you who do have a decent internet connection will help other organizations that do not.”


The application form for GDRL deployment sites is available here:


Internship Applications are available here:

David Morrissey closed the call by taking questions from participants.  One participant asked about language barriers in countries where English is not the primary spoken or read language. David responded that while the core of the material presented will be in English, the GDRL team is always looking for materials in all languages.  But this step requires the support of organizations and local communities who have knowledge of content in different languages. David reminded participants that the GDRL team welcomes recommendations or donation of all types of disability rights content in all languages.  People with ideas for content may email the GDRL team at  David indicated that, in the, future USICD hopes to develop a program for translating vital materials into multiple languages.  But for now, the project relies on material that already exists and is available online. 

      Another participant asked if the USAID grant funding will apply to eGranary deployments in countries outside of Africa.  David responded that traditionally the WiderNet project has been focused on Africa and South Asia.  However, the GDRL is not confined to these regions for deployment.  If the project receives strong applications from other parts of the world, including in the Asian and Pacific region, those sites will certainly be considered.  Potential deployment sites need to be approved not only by the GDRL team but also by the local USAID mission office.

      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 or at

Learn more about the GDRL at: and at

Learn how to apply for the GDRL at