Welcome to our blog: The Invisible 1 Billion! This blog is the outcome of an academic assignment at the Communication for Development Master Programme at Malmö University, Sweden. Yet, it is a real blog, a voice in the world, as real as any other voice being shaped on the internet. The blog will become one tiny part of the broad discussion on development and ICT (Information and Communications Technology). And at the very moment anyone reads this first post, like you do now, no matter how much a drop in the ocean it feels like, this blog becomes part of creating the values and norms surrounding ICT4D (Information and Communications Technology for Development).
ICT4D aims at diminishing the so called ‘digital divide’, the disparity between those who have and those who don’t have access to, use of, or impact of ICTs. Tim Unwin, one of the more experienced and active Minority World voices in the ICT4D discussion, reminds us that there is nothing inherently good or fair in ICTs. On the contrary, the ICTs, mainly designed to increase economic growth, more often serve the interests of the rich and powerful than those of the poor. “Where there are inequalities ICTs will enhance those inequalities unless specific actions are taken to prevent this”, Unwin writes in his book Reclaiming ICT4D. He calls upon all academics interested in ICT4D to leave their careerist aspirations and ignore the wants of global development corporations and instead serve the interests of the poor and marginalized.
So how do four students do that writing a simple blog? How do we make sure we don’t enhance inequalities, but instead take those specific actions to prevent them? How do we, as Unwin argues we should, avoid being part of the problem and become part of the solution instead?
There is one billion disabled people in the world, of which 80% live in the Majority World. Poor people are more likely to become disabled and disabled people are among the poorest of the population. Every fifth person living in poverty is disabled. Yet, disability has long been peripheral in the larger development agenda. The Millennium Development Goals, launched in 2000, aimed at combating all aspects of global poverty and social exclusion but completely excluded disability issues and disabled people. As a result, disability became invisible in the implementations of the goals too.
In recent years, however, the shift towards a rights-based approach to development and pressure by the international disability movement (among other things) have raised the question of a disability-inclusive development agenda. It is now ten years since the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) entered into force. The convention was the first universal framework ensuring human rights and fundamental freedom to persons with disabilities. It also resulted in the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs. Today The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development finally recognizes disability as central to achieving the new sustainable goals.
Still, disability remains disproportionately marginalised in mainstream development research, policies and programmes, especially when compared with other social categories like gender and race. The need to raise disability awareness, include the disability perspective, decolonise disability research and spread knowledge about accessibility is urgent. All fields of development work, including ICT4D, need to become more disability-inclusive. More voices that challenge ableism need to be heard, alongside those that challenge racism and gender inequalities.
So, this is what we will do, this is what this blog will be about. It will not be about showing off academic skills, fancy design or eager beaver careerists. It will be about being aware of being a voice. We will use our drop in the ICT4D ocean to join in making disability issues and disabled people visible in ICT4D discussions. This is our ‘specific action’, humbly trying to become part of the solution.
We welcome you warmly on board this blog journey!
written by SH