Democracy, Citizenship, and Activism

Democracy, Citizenship, and Activism

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6130-1.ch012


Issues of participation of people with disabilities in politics and public administration are the focus of this chapter. People with disabilities can have an effective impact on society and policies if they are allowed and encouraged to participate in democratic processes, public administration, and activism actions. Through these channels, their voice can be heard even louder and clearer and can have an increased impact. This chapter discusses how ICT can help in encouraging such participation and how it can also assist in activist actions for disability rights. Citizenship in the age of social media, social media as a tool for social innovation, issues of compliance, the politics of disability, and design issues are some of the aspects discussed in the chapter.
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Citizenship In The Age Of Social Media

The perception of politics from a citizen’s point of view has changed dramatically over the last decade, largely thanks to participatory technologies and, more recently, to social networking. This promises to have a much more profound impact on the experience of democracy and the nature of citizenship than all of the previous efforts at online democracy or e-voting or e-administration put together. Most of the efforts of the past have merely been literal and largely uninspired attempts to translate cumbersome ‘analog’ processes into IT enabled but equally cumbersome digital processes.

Experiments still go on to explore new ways for how people with disabilities to vote. In November 2011 the state of Oregon (Seelye, 2011) in the US became the first state to allow people with disabilities to vote using an iPad instead of a voting machine or ballot box. The article did not specify whether non-disabled people could vote in this way too, not to allow what would seem like discrimination against people without disabilities. It is expected that other states will follow soon. In actual fact the person selects their candidate and the computer prints out a completed ballot. The voters or assistants either mail the printed ballots or drop them in the ballot box. For the time being Internet voting is not common even in the US and the example of the use of the iPad would seem to represent the current state of the art. There is some value in this to the voter however. A person with reduced vision can magnify the ballot on the screen or in principle understand the options using audio captions. Someone with arthritis, who cannot hold a pen, could touch the screen with his finger to mark the ballot. This kind of experimentation is almost inevitable in the US as a response to HAVA, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 which supports the financing of demonstration and pilot projects to ensure that people with disabilities are able to vote.

In this chapter we will not elaborate on these aspects of e-democracy for people with disabilities or even on the related issue of e-administration. Access to e-administration more or less comes down to interaction with web-site or portal and this issue has been covered in some detail in the chapter on media and entertainment under the heading of web-access.

Instead we look at the impact of social networking on the experience of democracy and on the nature of citizens participation in political life.

The real power of ICT in politics was shown during the campaign to elect Barack Obama in 2008. He refused to accept campaign donations from big industry and he refused to avail of public financing. He pioneered the use of social networking to break previous records for raising funds for both his presidential primary and general campaigns. Using Facebook, YouTube and instant messaging his campaign committee raised more than $650M to fund his campaigns. All of these were private donations each one consisting of small amounts typically of the order of $50 or $100. The story is told in more detail in a Wikipedia article (“Barack Obama presidential campaign, 2008,” 2014) or in one of the many books about this achievement such as “Yes We Did: An inside view of how social media built the Obama brand” (Harfoush, 2009) by his online campaign manager. The campaign was triumph of the use of social media in targeted marketing and it is highly likely that by 2020 these techniques will be commonplace in Europe as well.

Projects to exploring the use of social media in politics have been funded by FP7. The FUPOL (FUPOL, n.d.)project looks at how this will affect future policy making in the EU.

It is interesting to note that a World Report on Disability (WHO, 2011) published for the first time by the WHO and The World bank in 2011 notes that “responses to disability have changed since the 1970s, prompted largely by the self-organization of people with disabilities…” It turns about that self-organization has been an important element in the evolution of rights for disabled people.

In many ways this chapter is about how the use of ICT as a tool for self-organization could help communities of disabled people ensure that legislation intended for their benefit is actually enforced. There are many example of legislation that has been created but is in fact ignored. The reasons for this are many and it is not always done in bad faith. But someone has to raise the issue, bring it to the attention of politicians, researchers and industrialists so that they are first of all aware of the issue, and know who they can turn to for help to address it.

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