USICD Hosts Teleconferences Introducing the GDRL

October 25, 2010


Teleconference Summary

USICD would like to thank everyone who was able to participate in the two teleconference calls on the Global Disability Rights Library, held on October 20 and 21, 2010.  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 Skype call aimed at international participants in November.  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.  We look forward to hosting more conversations to get people involved in the building and implementing of the GDRL project. 

The purpose of the calls was to introduce the Global Disability Rights Library (GRDL) 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 Project 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, and ways to become involved either through donating content or recommending potential host sites 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.  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.  He described teaching at a university in Nigeria on a Fulbright Grant, and being struck that the university had technology, laptops and desktop computers, but no reliable way to connect those tools to the resources of the internet.  At a university in West Africa last year, he discovered that the university was paying $150,000 a year for a 1Mb/sec connection, less than a third of the internet bandwidth available on a smartphone in the U.S.   Ten years ago the eGranary Digital Library project was founded to provide new ways to bringing digital resources and internet content to NGOs and universities.  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. 

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 we have 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 websites.  We need to work with you to find this content and receive permission to distribute it through the eGranary library. 

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.  In talking with advisors and people with disabilities in the field, we constantly hear the refrain that we need to provide 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 WiderNet is planning for an initial 60 eGranary installations as part of the GDRL project, and that 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.  If anyone has specific recommendations about organizations in the field who have a mission to distribute disability rights information, please nominate them as a potential deployment site.  For now you can email the GDRL program at  Soon WiderNet will launch a site to accept nominations for GDRL deployment sites. 

A question from a conference participant prompted discussion on content updates for the library, as well as ways that the eGranary supports generation of new content and learning in communities that have received an eGranary.  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. 

One of the most exciting features of the eGranary device is the capability for users to generate their own websites, blogs, and courses and host them on the unit’s network.  The eGranary comes bundled with open source software for building websites and blogs, as well as the interactive course management system Moodle, so that users can develop modules for trainings and academic classes, and use content from the eGranary as reference material, offering quizzes, certifications, and more that we are only just discovering. 

Another participant asked about published journals, asking if there was a need for published material in the GDRL.   Cliff responded that we are excited to include journals and full digital books in the library.  If publishers are willing to donate their content to the library, it is welcome.  He mentioned how the journals published by the Mayo Clinic, which cost university libraries thousands of dollars for subscriptions, have donated their entire archive to the WiderNet to be distributed in developing countries for free.  These types of relationships and collaborations are possible, but work best if there is an advocate, someone who knows the publishers and can push to include the information in the library.     

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.  But also, 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