ICTs and Inclusive Sustainable Development

This weeks reading were on ICTs and Inclusive Sustainable Development, ICT stands for Information and Communication Technology. The class discussed how having access to the internet and communication technology provides a means of leveling the playing field developing countries. Having access to the internet provides small business owners in developing countries the opportunity to access a market that they otherwise would have been completely shut out of. Additionally, ICT’s provide access to information in new and unprecedented ways that could not have happened a few hundred years ago. During this class the fact that technology is amazing was really driven home and made me think about how often we take it for granted here in the Untied States.

 

After doing research I found project pursued by major companies like Google and Facebook that are aiming to increase access to internet around the world. This question of access and discussion of what it means to make services and experiences more accessible to all proved to be strikingly similar to our conversations about disability inclusion. In a similar way, providing access increases quality of life of those who are marginalized without access and provides means for self sufficiency. Thinking about the parallels of ICTS and sustainable development made me think about our theoretical readings by Amartya Sen. Providing access does truly provide freedom. The creation of the United Nations is representative of a global governing body in which structure and means of freedom to its member states. I would argue that access to internet in developing areas is an extension of Sen’s theories on development, worldwide access that is being pursued by Google and Facebook is indicative of development proving freedom.

 

Interestingly enough in my international business class we often talk about the opportunities that large multinational corporations provide to developing nations. A debate often arises regarding what it more effective in developing countries, international aid or large corporations? ICT’s really fall into this debate because government  or governing bodies like the UN may provide guidance and suggestion to these companies but ultimately the internet is owned by large multinational corporations. It would be interesting to look at how Sen’s writing will be applied in the future and if development should be viewed as governance or business or perhaps both?

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Sustainable Development Goals Overview and the High-Level Political Forum

The United Nations Development Goals have targets and indicators that are meant to provide a way of measuring progress towards said goals. This is something that the prior Millennium Development Goals failed to do and were highly criticized for. The UN created the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) to act as a “central platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals, provides for the full and effective participation of all States Members of the United Nations and States members of specialized agencies.” Within the United Nations there is also the presence of Major Groups. The Major Groups represent a variety of specialized individuals who are experts in marginalized communities because they are often representative of that community. Among these major groups are Women, Children and Youth, Indigenous Peoples, Workers and Trade Unions, and Persons with Disabilities.

 

This class session ended up being very important to formulating my own capstone project. My topic ended up looking into Goal 12 (Climate Change) target 12.8 aims to do the following:

“By 2030, ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature” by the year 2030.” (UN SDG 12.8)

Indicator 12.8.1 aims to measure this target by looking at the following:

Extent to which (i) global citizenship education and (ii) education for sustainable development (including climate change education) are mainstreamed in (a) national education policies; (b) curricula; (c) teacher education; and (d) student assessment (UN SDG. 12.1)

 

The goal of my project is to measure how the United States education system is contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by analyzing U.S. education standards related to climate change. It is fascinating to know how much meaning individual words within an official United Nations document have. When doing this reading and skimming over the term “major groups” it never crossed my mind that there was an entire system in place that gives meaning to the term major groups. I have a new found appreciation for the United Nations and all of the documents that are produced because I know how much meaning is beind all of them.

Theoretical Approaches to Development

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals have become a critical component in in international development. However in order to understand the value of the UN SDG’s it is important to also understand what international development is from a theoretical and conceptual approach. This weeks readings went into defining international development by analyzing the writings of Amartya Sen and Sumner and Tribe.

My favorite points were made my Amartya Sen who viewed international development as a catalyst for change. At the time development from the west was majorly focused in economic development. However, Amartya Sen expanded on that idea and viewed development as freedom and contributed to the major indicators that people look at when defining development. Sen makes the point that development grants opportunities for freedom he furthermore provides evidence by looking at differences in developed areas as opposed to their less developed counterparts. This point is illustrated well in the following quote ““Development consists of the removal of various types of unfreedoms that leave people with little choice and little opportunity of exercising their reasoned agency. The removal of substantial unfreedoms, it is argued here, is constitutive of development.”  An interesting example given within the reading pertains to women’s freedom in countries that only burn fossil fuels vs countries that have more means of energy. Countries that stick only fossil fuels tend to have female populations that have less freedom of choice compared to more progressive countries.

When developing my capstone project keeping in mind the opportunities that derive from development will be important. The benefits of development provide more opportunities for persons with disabilities to have access to opportunities that they may otherwise be inhibited from. Living in the United States provides individuals the opportunity to look at already present standards and mechanisms in place and make everyday life more attainable for persons with disabilities. Perusing the same task in a society that does not have any of these mechanism, laws or enforcement in place provides more challenges.

The Global “Grand Challenge” of Inclusive Sustainable Development

On the first day of our Inclusive Sustainable Development course Professor Cogburn introduced the concept of a “Grand Challenge”.  Throughout history humanity has faced many of them, my favorite example used in class was humanities race to get to the moon. There was a period of time where great minds were coming together to solve this problem of taking humanity where they have not gone before. To understand whether or not we are alone in this vast universe or if there are others out there. Professor Cogburn related to this topic to the concept of a “moonshot”. A moonshot is taking a chance to find something great no matter how out of reach it may seem at the beginning.

The millennium development goals were a moonshot; great minds working on development looked at the overall work individuals were doing and realized that there should be a collection of goals that focus overall efforts. Although highly criticized for their effectiveness and inclusivity, the millennium development goals led to our present day Sustainable Development Goals. These goals are more inclusive, effective, and create frameworks for tracking progress. Every moonshot leads to a bigger and greater discovery that is improved with time. Before humanity commended itself for sending a man to the moon, now we have people like Elon Musk who are working to put man on mars permanently.

Back when things were a little more sane, the Obama White House put forth 21st Century Grand Challenges and viewed them as an opportunity to change the lives of Americans. The White House invested in missions to expand our understanding of the human brain and treat diseased like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism and epilepsy. The Department of Energy also invested in the “Sunshot Grand Challenge” which aimed to expand solar technology and apply it to vehicles. NASA has a very sobering Asteroid Challenge that aimed to “find all asteroid threats to human populations and know what to do about them”. All of these challenges led to new discoveries that pushed forward new initiatives that continued to help humanity.

Professor Cogburn’s final message for the day was to have this “moonshot” mentality throughout the semester when perusing our project on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Understanding that the path to inclusive sustainable development still has a lot of work to be done but every project will be an important step towards progress.

Inclusive Education

 

This week in class we went over the concept of Inclusive Education. The literature that we went over to prepare for this session included looking at the UN G3ICT Model Policy for Inclusive ICT’s in Education for PWDs. This piece focuses on how UN member states can make education more accessible to persons with disabilities. Within this document is a chapter related directly to policy actions and objections at three different levels of an inclusive education system. An interesting feature to these actions and objectives is that they are not technology specific, this was done with the intention of making sure that the actions and objectives do not become less relevant as technology progresses. I found this section of the document most intriguing because of the highlighted steps that can be seen in the image below:  

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Oftentimes as initiators of change we forget that before diving into pushing for a certain policy we need to take a step back and review the current situation. I think that this document does a great job of explaining the need to take these steps and then provides critical questions to be asked at each stage in relation persons with disabilities. I think that a similar approach should be taken when writing out our final capstone projects, I am excited to be able to use this as a guide as I work on my project for the rest of the semester.

In class we also had the opportunity to talk about the importance of inclusive education models and how they align with several of the UN SDG”s. Professor Cogburn had the opportunity to speak about a project that he had worked on for several years with the Nippon foundation. His efforts eventually led to the creation of the first masters degree in disability management that can be completed online. It was exciting to see that American University was part of these efforts and in some ways is a trailblazer in creating inclusive education. I think that it is also important to emphasize why it is so critical that this degree could be completed online and how it relates to another concept we talked about in class called universal design. When someone mentions that a product or service has been made with a universal design it means that it is made with the intention of granting equal access to said product/ service to everyone regardless of capability. In order for us as a society to be more inclusive we need to start designing everything with the concept in mind.

Disaster Risk Management & Telepresence Robots

 

This week in class we discussed Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Management (DRM). The Sendai Framework was created as a means of setting standards for what an effective disaster relief plan would look like. The Sendai framework includes plans that take into consideration the needs of many groups and the rebuilding that often needs to happen over the course of 15 years. There are seven targets and four priorities that encourage action to managing a disaster. One of the points sums up the call for inclusivity really well, it states: “Disaster risk reduction requires an all-of-society engagement and partnership. It also requires empowerment and inclusive, accessible and non discriminatory participation, paying special attention to people disproportionately affected by disasters…”A similar framework we went over was the Dhaka declaration that pertains specifically to persons with disabilities and calls for inclusive planning and action. Additionally we went over the conferences where these frameworks were held and how they were made to be inclusive on all persons.

In order to make a conference inclusive it needs to be accessible to people everywhere regardless of their physical capabilities. One of the ways that was done at the GP 2017 conferences was by using Telepresence Robots. These robots are essentially motorized scooters with an i-Pad attached at face level. The controller of the robot can navigate any space online and explore different elements of a conference. However, the technology surrounding the Telepresence Robots do present some challenge as well. They are often distracting and the user cannot pick up on social cues or body language as well as individuals who are present in person can. This can be a problem when the person controlling the Telepresence Robot is going their time allotted to speak or perhaps even blocking another attendee with their machine.

Although it may not be exactly the same as being at a conference in person in provides a new way for persons who cannot attend a conference of who many not have the physical capability to attend a conference to finally do so. Additionally, these Telepresence Robots allow for individuals to interact with other people attending a conference and communicate with guest speakers. At the GP2017 conference the Telepresence Robots actually had the opportunity to interact with a high-ranking UN official.  It is inspiring to see technology and innovation moving in ways that make the world a better place by allowing more people to be involved.

Inclusive Sustainable Cities

This week the reading and in class discussions revolved around the concept of inclusive and sustainable cities. The New Urban Agenda sets a framework for the creation and ongoing development of cities and human settlements. There are three main points that the NUA makes, the one that is more pertinent to our class discussion was urban equity and the eradication of poverty. Point 36 specifically calls for equal access to all public spaces for people with disabilities. This point echo’s the theme of what has been talked about in class all semester. Without equal access to these spaces that people without disabilities have access to persons with disabilities are missing out on a multitude of opportunities. Not being able to use public transit may mean that your access to the entire city is limited and more expensive. If you’re not able to access a park then you’re missing out on valuable social time and relationships that are necessary to a healthy human existence.

This week the in-class discussion highlighted the different innovative features that inclusive and sustainable cities could have. One of my favorite discussions was about the use of sensors within a city and how they can contribute to making living in a city more sustainable. Sensors are a relatively cheap was to create data that can be used to configure a variety of sustainable living practices within a community. From public transit to vegetable compost, understanding the rate or frequency at which these practices are happening can contribute to making them more efficient and furthermore, more sustainable.

The in-class discussion about the use of apps and crowd source data to informs persons with disabilities how accessible a venue is was also very interesting. The example of using an app to navigate your way into a park with a wheelchair or into a facility that may not immediately show where an elevator is was extremely useful. The use of an app that uses crowd sourced data to understand how friendly a restaurant is towards persons with disabilities was also interesting. This discussion made me realize how unaware I was of how my favorite coffee shop or movie theater could be completely inaccessible to people with certain disabilities. However, this discussion also inspired me to think more about inclusivity when going about my day to day life and to make more of an effort to be an advocate for inclusive sustainable development.