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The ICT4D community must include people with disabilities.

By Guest Writer on July 25, 2012


According to the WHO, over a billion people in the world, or 15% of the world’s population, live with disabilities. This number is higher in lower income countries, although most commonly the rate is underestimated due to lack of solid data. If you were to try and identify some of the most poor and vulnerable members of any community, you would have to look no further than those with disabilities.

Poverty and disability are inextricably linked. The lack of access to decent employment, the higher costs of living, the opportunity costs of caring those with disabilities – all of these factors combine make families of people with disabilities multiply disadvantaged. Children with disabilities are far less likely to attend school than their non-disabled peers.

How then do we best address the issue of inequality that arises amongst people with disabilities?

Previously, specific programs to address the needs of those with disabilities was the only method, but now, more and more agencies are moving towards mainstreaming disability issues into their existing programs. In terms of government aid agencies, AusAID is leading the charge on this front, following a twin track approach to disability. This means specific programs for those with disabilities, but also including the concerns of people with disabilities as part of all mainstream projects.

For the ICT4D community, this presents a unique opportunity to mainstream a large proportion of the population, who are amongst the most vulnerable, into their core work. TechBridgeWorld is an ICT4D organisation that I recently became aware of who are doing great things for people with disabilities.

Mainstream technology is currently being used by people with disabilities to improve their own lives.

A good example is people with visual impairments using the iPhone to change the way they interact with the world. Although it is well known that the iPhone carries inbuilt accessibility features, apps like Sendero, “an app made for the blind, by the blind”, are able to announce the user’s current street, city, cross street, and nearby points of interest.

The iPhone itself has questionable relevance in lower income countries, but the premise behind mainstreaming technology for people with disabilities is still relevant. This is because it can level the playing field for those who cannot afford custom purpose and built devices. A good example is Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices, which assist those with difficulties in communication.

Previously, these items were designed and built for a small market, and even simple devices like those above were the only options for those with communication impairments. In Australia, the price tag of one of these devices is close to $6000. Although the feature set of such an item may be vast, the actual technology behind it is basic.

These days, using mainstream tablets and smartphones, much of the same benefits can be achieved, albeit with a much lower cost. Items are built with a huge market in mind, but software can be customised specifically to suit the needs of people with disabilities.

Similarly, mainstream organisations can achieve great results while including people with disabilities into their core work. Despite this, barriers persist. Often, organisations resist including people with disabilities because it is perceived as too difficult or intimidating. However, disability organisations are increasingly becoming aware of the benefits of the twin track approach, and assisting mainstream development organisations by promoting inclusion. Here is a fantastic guide, produced by CBM, to get the ball rolling.

I would love to know more about what the ICT4D community is already doing in integrating the needs of people with disabilities into their programs. Please share your experiences in the comments below!

Weh Yeoh is a disability development worker currently based in Cambodia. He is a professionally trained physiotherapist who has completed a MA in Development Studies at the University of NSW. He is a co-founder and team member of whydev.org, an online collaborative and participatory platform for individuals passionate about development, aid, and other global issues.



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3 Comments to “The ICT4D community must include people with disabilities.”

  1. Dr. Gene Loeb says:

    This focus on making technology accessible for disabled is an important consideration. I would add some elderly have similar problems and should be included. I study the elderly use of technoloogy and see a parallel to need sof disabled.
    Thanks for the post.

  2. Weh Yeoh says:

    Hi Dr Gene,

    Thank you so much for your comment. You are spot on. Integrating the needs of people with disabilities, and those of the ageing population should always go hand in hand.

  3. alanc230 says:

    I have seen technology applications that are great helps to the severely disabled. A critical part of any such technology is durability and breakage prevention, as many severely disabled persons lack not only limb control but impulse control.