Several years ago, while corresponding with an African man with a hearing impairment, Andrea Shettle learned just how difficult it is for someone with a disability in a developing country to connect with his peers. "He told me that it was usually easier for him to communicate with people in Europe or the U.S. via e-mail than it was to communicate with fellow deaf leaders just 25 miles away, because not only did they not have e-mail but there was limited phone access for deaf people in his country," recalls Shettle, program manager for the Global Disability Rights Library (GDRL). "The situation is still largely similar for many people in that country and other countries today because Internet connectivity is still so rare in many sub-Saharan African and South Asian countries."
Inspired by the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities--the first legally binding international human rights treaty of its kind--the newly-formed GDRL provides access to hundreds of thousands of resources on disability rights via an electronic system that bypasses the World Wide Web. The library's collection, which organizers plan to unveil this year, houses information about independent living, advocacy, education, poverty, transportation, public policy, employment, vocational rehabilitation and other topics for people with disabilities, grassroots advocates, families, policy makers and others worldwide.
The GDRL is a collaboration between the United States International Council on Disability (USICD) and the University of Iowa's WiderNet Project, which for the past decade has produced off-line digital libraries using eGranary digital technology. Instead of connecting to the Internet, users access information from a paperback-sized hard drive containing numerous websites, electronic publications, and other materials. The GDRL compares an eGranary unit to "having a slice of the Internet stored inside a box."
The system relies on "portals" through which users access certain topics. "If you are a disability rights advocate running a small, grassroots disability rights organization and you want some training materials you can use to teach people with disabilities in your community about their own human rights, you could go to the page on how to promote disability rights, then go to the page for self advocacy training and empowerment," says Shettle. "Then you would find a list of training materials that you can investigate."
In addition, the GDRL offers basic information for those who aren't heavily involved in the disability movement, such as parents who have just discovered their child has a disability and mainstream organizations that are new to the field. "For example, if you run an organization and someone with a disability you know nothing about has come to you and asked for a certain accommodation to enable them to participate in your next conference, you might want to learn a bit about the disability to understand why this accommodation is helpful and so necessary for them," says Shettle. …