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Progress of the GDRL Portal

October 31, 2010 marks the end of the first year of the Global Disabilities Rights Library (GDRL) grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).  This project is a joint effort between the WiderNet Project and The United States International Council on Disability (USICD).  The Global Disability Rights Library seeks to build a bridge between global information sources and disabled people’s organizations (DPOs) and advocacy organizations to expand their organizational capacity, better serve their communities and make a positive impact for disability rights.    As outlined in this grant, The WiderNet Project is responsible for the development of the technical aspects of the library, the on-site installation and training, and the librarianship aspects.  USICD is responsible for the development of, and working with, the International Advisory Board, the development of a comprehensive collection of resources that are responsive to the needs for disability advocacy and policy development in developing countries, and the evaluation of the content within the library.  Following is a synopsis of an interview with Andrea Shettle, USICD Project Manager for the GDRL on the first year's progress in developing this GDRL library.


A team of 6 digital librarians along with USICD Project Manager, Andrea Shettle, have worked to locate GDRL content and garner permissions from websites and authors in order to use their material within the GDRL library.  At this point in time GDRL librarians have garnered permissions from approximately 830 of the 2,100 resources catalogued.  The most pragmatic content that the GDRL offers can be found in the section “Capacity Building for DPOs”. Users can reference this section to learn things like “how to raise funds and write grant proposals, or how to design and implement an effective social change project or advocacy campaign” explains Shettle.  It is the inclusion of this type of material that will allow the GDRL to really propel DPOs forward.  Shettle describes the structure of the Global Disabilities Rights Library as one that is evolving: “Sometimes the information you want just doesn’t exist, and other times you come across information you didn’t know you need.” 

Along with the six digital librarians, the International Advisory Board (IAB) plays another important role in shaping the development of the GDRL. The IAB consists of ten members representing ten different countries from around the world.  Many of these members are people with disabilities or they are involved with organizations that work with people with disabilities. These members, along with nine ex-officio members, have been advising GDRL staff in the type of information they believe is most important to include in the GDRL digital library, recommending good websites and information sources, and giving permissions for their own websites and materials to be used in the library.  

As Mary Ennis, Executive Director of Disabled Peoples’ International, explains, “Not only will this initiative advance the status of persons with disabilities in many countries, but it will facilitate the development of new partnerships and new alliances.”


During the next two years of the grant, the Global Disability Rights Library will continue to grow in terms of resources and content.  And, in fact, GDRL librarians are currently working on building companion portals that will complement the GDRL and add to its effectiveness by allowing users to find resources on closely related topics. These companion portals include such topics as basic disability information, general human rights, and capacity building for non-government organizations.

According to Shettle, the progress of the GDRL faces two challenges.  The first challenge is finding content in the native languages of the users and this challenge will be on-going.  The second challenge is allowing all GDRL content to be accessible to all audiences.  Due to the legal copyright process, content cannot be reformatted from its original state. This means, for example, a document produced in a PDF form, may not enable accessibility for blind or dyslexic users.  Shettle notes that despite being constrained by the information that is available, GDRL librarians have been able to find a great deal of accessible content and have been able to include accessibility software in the library as well.

Marca Bristo, USICD President explains the impact of the GDRL best: “Information is a powerful tool for transforming society. And the Global Disability Rights Library puts that tool in the hands of people in the best position to change the lives of people with disabilities for the better.”

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