Battling Dehumanization and Financial Exclusion: How Can Access to Knowledge Help?

> Posted by Andrea Shettle, Program Manager, Global Disability Rights Library
Achieving financial independence is challenging enough for most of the world’s poorest citizens.  When you also face persistent dehumanization from your neighbors and even your own family, escaping poverty becomes even harder.  Men and, particularly, women with disabilities in many developing countries confront this challenge daily.
As an example, women with disabilities tell us they want to be included in microfinance programs so that they, too, can work hard, build a business, and support their families.  But banks and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) often refuse to include them in microcredit projects.  Bankers assume they are begging and turn them away without listening to their proposals.  NGOs say that disability is “not their priority” and fail to recognize that people with disabilities need the same services that their other clients need, too.  Meanwhile, even relatives may fail to recognize the personhood of a woman with disabilities and may exclude her from conversation and family activities.  Neighbors may speak of them by referring to their disability rather than their name. For example, they may speak of “the cripple,” and not “my neighbor, María.”  Can access to knowledge change this trend of dehumanization and financial exclusion for both women and men with disabilities?
The Global Disability Rights Library (GDRL) team believes that the answer is “yes.”  The GDRL project is a joint initiative of the U.S. International Council on Disabilities (USICD) where I work and our partner organization, the WiderNet project at the University of Iowa, with funding support from USAID.  
Since long before I joined the GDRL team, I have felt strongly that the right knowledge in the hands of the right people has the power to transform society.  With the GDRL, we’re working to demonstrate just that by bringing digital disability rights knowledge to users in developing countries who have limited internet connectivity.  We use an innovative off-line digital storage technology, called the eGranary Digital Library.  An eGranary is like having a slice of the internet stored inside of a box.  Sixty eGranaries containing the GDRL will be installed in countries such as  Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Peru, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.  These digital libraries will serve as a community resource for NGO leaders, policy makers, people with disabilities, and more.
People with disabilities in developing countries don’t need help in identifying the problems they confront. They are immersed daily in the challenges created by an environment that was not designed for them.  They also are the best experts to identify solutions that will genuinely help them. But even with this irreplaceable insight, sometimes designing and implementing the best solutions in a resource-poor environment requires access to a rich body of knowledge.  Knowledge about what has been tried before can help advocates avoid repeating other people’s mistakes while trying to emulate strategies that seem to work.  Knowledge about systems and procedures meant to protect their human rights can also help people with disabilities find more effective ways of seeking change when their human rights are violated.
This is exactly what the Global Disability Rights Library provides.  A program manager who wants to make their program more inclusive of people with disabilities can consult the GDRL to find examples of best practices and checklists to consider in auditing their own efforts.  An advocate who wants to change their country’s laws to allow people with disabilities to own property can use the GDRL to consult other countries’ legislation and then use these examples when lobbying their government for legal reform.   A disabled people’s organization that wants to establish a poverty reduction project can use the GDRL to find tips for designing and evaluating an effective project.  People using the library to learn about microfinance efforts in relation to people with disabilities will now be able to read content from Accion, including materials from the Center for Financial Inclusion.  I cannot resist pointing out that this includes some blog posts written by Mary Dakim, who used to be an intern who assisted with the GDRL project!
The GDRL also covers a wide range of other disability rights topics such as independent living, accessibility, employment, education, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and more.  Some of its users will include poverty reduction workers, personnel in the microfinance sector, policy makers, grassroots disability rights advocates, and disabled people’s organizations.  The most important users will be people with disabilities themselves: the eGranary is designed to be accessible.  The deployment sites will be expected to ensure that people with a wide range of physical, sensory, and mental disabilities are able to use it.  For example, a deployment site can install the eGranary in a computer lab that is wheelchair accessible.
The off-line eGranary containing the GDRL will be disseminated to a total of 60 deployment sites.  People who have internet access may also use the on-line version of the library at  The final application deadline to be considered as a candidate for the last round of 33 deployment sites is September 1, 2011. The application form is available here.
We are constantly striving to improve the library.  Feedback from our 60 deployment sites will be important to us in implementing changes.  We also warmly welcome feedback from our online users at  Please visit the link to explore the five portals that comprise the Global Disability Rights Library project.  Any recommendations for additional content for us to pursue, or ideas to consider for re-organizing the library or making it more accessible, can be emailed to us at  Learn more about the GDRL project as a whole by clicking here.
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