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University of Iowa News Release


Nov. 19, 2009

WiderNet receives grant to provide disability resources in developing nations

Officials from the United States Agency for International Development awarded the University of Iowa WiderNet Project a $1.6 million grant to produce and distribute a Global Disability Rights Library for use in developing countries.

WiderNet will work with the United States International Council on Disabilities and more than 150 disability rights advocates worldwide to compile best practices and educational resources for the library's collection.

"This is huge," said Cliff Missen, who directs the WiderNet Project, which is part of the School of Library and Information Science in the Graduate College. "We're very grateful for this opportunity to show how our innovative technology can deliver much-needed information to disability rights advocates in remote and disconnected places."

The library will include Web sites and thousands of other resources with information on independent living, advocacy, education, transportation, public policy, employment and vocational rehabilitation for people with disabilities, their advocates, and policymakers around the world.

"In many cultures, people with disabilities have an extremely difficult life, and often don't survive," said Thomas Cook, professor of occupational and environmental health in the college of the public health and principal investigator on the project along with Missen.

"In many cultures, people with disabilities are viewed much differently than they are in the Western world. We are promoting different attitudes, policies and practices for people affected by disabilities. Information is power to change people's lives," Cook said.

This Global Disability Rights Library will be an enhanced version of WiderNet's eGranary Digital Library, an offline information store that provides Internet-like access to digital resources without requiring Internet connectivity.

The first prototype of the library will be developed in six months; the first finished product will be completed in one year. WiderNet will place libraries in 60 institutions worldwide, including health care facilities, legislatures and organizations serving people with disabilities. WiderNet will create hundreds of smaller versions of the library to distribute on DVDs and memory sticks.

Additionally, the Global Disability Rights Library will be available to everyone on the Internet through a new Web site created by WiderNet.

"We're looking for the widest dispersal," said Missen, who has helped deploy over 300 eGranary Digital Libraries worldwide.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, helped secure the funds to enable the WiderNet Project to provide vital disability rights information to people in developing countries.

"We have done great work in this country to ensure equality and the opportunity for self sufficiency amongst the millions of Americans with disabilities," Harkin said in a statement. "Now we are taking the next step to help people of developing countries access disability services, and I'm proud to see that our University of Iowa students and faculty are leading the charge."

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Graduate College Office of External Relations, 205 Gilmore Hall, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: John Riehl, 319-335-3260,