Prof.Karen Soldatić

Associate Professor, School of Social Sciences & Institute Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University

Global Development, Sustainability and Digitisation:
Disability Imaginaries in the Global South




Karen is Associate Professor at the School of Social Sciences and Institute fellow Institute for culture and society, Western Sydney University. Karen has over, 20 years of experience as an international policy analyst researcher and practitioner, especially in the area of Cambodia Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Karen does not realize that by accepting to give this lecture, she has been trapped into expanding our international experience to India. And we are happy about it. And she has also graciously invited our fellow researchers from Sri Lanka to participate in today’s webinar, expanding our Center’s reach to Sri Lanka, with no effort on our part, we are indeed grateful to Karen.


She’s a founding international editor for the multi lingual journal disability and the global south, and as published extensively in the area.

I am novice in the area of disability studies and the global south. My personal introduction to Karen has been through some of the key international anthologies that she has collated. I have personal copies, I’ve read them also of disability and the global south, the critical Handbook, 2016, the global politics of impairment and disability processes and embodiments 2014.


And my introduction to this rich area of disability studies in the global south has been mediated by these books. I do intend to get disability and colonialism 2016, which is missing from my library, very soon. And I eagerly await Karen’s forthcoming book with Dinesh on women with disabilities as agents of peace, change and rights, 2021.


In the critical Handbook, Karen has a chapter co-authored with Janak. The title of the chapter is global financialization and disability can disability budgeting, be an effective response in the south.


I would like to read to you the last few lines in the introduction section of the chapter, we can quote


 “By locating the 2008 financial crisis within neoliberal strategies of financial deregulation launched in the mid 90s. This chapter examines how the normalization of financialization mechanisms, processes and practices produces the marginalization and exploitation of people with disabilities in the global south.

In particular, we eliminate new forms of colonialism, by highlighting how global finance capital, located in the global north increasingly influences the development landscape.


To conclude, we explore the increasing role of identity budgeting, as first articulated in Sao Paulo, through local feminist moments as gender budgeting, as a counter or counteracting Southern tool for social justice.”


The reason I read this few lines is to indicate the depth and width of domains of discourse that and timescales that intersect in understanding this innocent looking phrase disability in the global south.



I’m delighted to let Karen take over from here to view our lecture. Thank you so much, Karen, over to you.


Karen Soldatic:


Thank you, thank you for that.Yes. Um, and I would also like to introduce my colleague Niro Kandasamy. You can see in the screen on the corner, who will be. We’ve been undertaking research together around the issues of technology and will disability gender in Srilanka under COVID. We’ve got a long term project and numerous actively contributed to the new book that was just mentioned that’s actually been pre released before 2021 so thank you doctor for mentioning that. And that’s now available from Routledge. So that’s another one. I hope you can add to your library.


So, yeah, it’s great to have Niro online as well and to be able to, co present the case studies, later on. We have a tradition in Australia, where we acknowledge the country that we’re working from so today I’m working on the lands of the Gadigal people within Sydney which is the indigenous First Nations name for the area that I actually live and because of COVID, because we’re all working from home, where I’m working from, and today this week actually is a very special week for us it’s called Naidoc week and they don’t week really is the celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander indigenous culture in Australia, and their struggle for survival with white settler colonization. So, thank you everyone for inviting me to this presentation, I have to say I am I am a little bit nervous, especially presenting via webinar, because it’s very difficult to get in to gauge the audience’s engagement with the topic and whether I’m putting you to sleep or you’re getting up making a cup of tea and so I apologize in advance if so, um, so doctor and I actually had a bit of a discussion about what I should present on. And one of the things that we talked about was mala would be developing around the broader themes of global development sustainability and digitalization and what that might mean for disability imaginaries in the global south, which nearer and I will present case studies on later on. Given the impact of COVID which we all know, has actually accelerated digitization and there’s been a number of assumptions made with that acceleration of digitization, but to actually to spend some time given the name of the research center to spend some time thinking about what is the meaning of the global south. So I guess what I’m going to do, to give three, just to give an overview of the main areas of today for the presentation is I’m going to give some definitions of the global south.


Some of its contestation some of its rethinking.Some of the ideas meanings and definitions.And I’m going to cut engaged, I guess more so in a dialogue, rather than give a definitive opinion of what I think about what the global stuff actually means when we refer to it, in terms of discourse, what it means when we refer to it, in terms of institutions or daily practices.

Some of those things. Also, about global narratives around the global south, not just around the World Bank, but things like the Sustainable Development Goals what they actually mean.


And some of the limitations and strengths of those things. And some of the assumptions and moving forward around digitization and automation in the global south, and then I guess what Niro and I are going to do together and newer will really lead this component of the presentation. And that is to explore some of the case studies that we’ve been working with a number of women with disabilities who themselves are advocates and activists from different groups across the island of Sri Lanka.We’ve been working with these women and they’re featured in our forthcoming book. And, and we’ve been talking to them about the issues of digitization, and some of the assumptions that are made. Even in COVID lockdown.Given the screen, given that it’s. There’s all of these able bodied assumptions that are made that assumes that digitization can actually result in inclusion for everyone. Okay, so I might just stop sharing my screen and okay so here we go.


So, I guess today’s talk. What I wanted to really think about was three main questions. The first is how the global is south defined, or can we define it. What does the global south mean and kind of really, what kind of comes first, is it, its meaning its definition. And, or does its definition how we define it is, is that what gives it meaning set. So what is that interactive dynamic and who should use the term the global south and how should it be used. So, I guess, first of all, I think I really need to open up with the idea that the global self is a highly contested term. It has really grown in its popularity as a term to define a particular part of the world, particularly with global academic research, and within global policy Institute’s, such as the World Bank, in the UN.

As a result, the global south represents a range of meanings dependent on where, how, and who uses the term, and why it is being mobilized within discourse, as a form of global representation.


To begin, one thing we really need to be clear about is that it is more than a geographical description of the globe, as we can see from maps of the world that define what is the global north and the global south, often those maps might include Australia and New Zealand. As part of a geographical space of the global south, but in actual fact when it comes to wealth, power, particularly global political power. We know that Australia and New Zealand feet within the global north.


And often, from a geographical perspective countries such as in Central Asia and Middle East might actually see it in the geographical boundaries of the North. But in terms of political and economic power, they actually remain within the global south. And then, as I’ll discuss later, there is, you know, this changing nature of the global political economy. And so it, the global south, in and of itself is increasingly a flexible term about different shifting geopolitical struggles of power, political power economic power and military power.


So the global south really is a political term that has been created to capture the ways the broader political economy operates as relationships between and across the nation states, how these are embedded in long standing power relations, often of colonization, which have continued and continued in different shapes and forms and the types of dependencies within the global political economy as a result of these long standing historical relationships. This is in terms of economic development issues of resource extraction and appropriation and the impact upon the majority of the world’s population. In fact one contestation of the term the global south by a particular group of scholars who argue that they actually take what they call a majority-terian perspective when describing these sets of broader structural institutional economic and cultural relations of power. Usually embedded within the idea of the global south by stating that in fact it is the majority world, and therefore their preference is actually to use this notion of the majority world, because at a population level or empirically. This is what you would suggest is absolutely correct, the global south incorporates by far the majority of the world’s population. And even with a significantly emerging middle class within these nation states. They are by far significantly poorer, with less personal security and access to resources, particularly, they might have income social mobility, but they don’t necessarily have wealth. Wealth distribution in the same way that we have within the global north.


So therefore the global south has multiple meanings and definitions, and it begs the question, how should it be used and who should use the term global south. So to answer this question I also want to give some historical background to the term itself. So one thing we need to be clear about is that the term emerges at a time in the late 1960s early 70s, and some have actually tracked it down to an area to that it was actually developed in the global north by a group of eclectic political thinkers who came together across the divide of left and right politics in the late 1960s early 70s, who were examining ways to try and articulate a new global order against us imperialism and the kind of power that us imperialism was trying to maintain.


Whether this is explicitly true, to be honest I haven’t done enough research to actually track the origins of the term in this way. But the readings that I have actually undertaken suggests that this that the, the term the global south and the global north actually emerges from the north, rather than the south, which is kind of interesting because the term the global south, in and of itself has become a term that is largely adopted by scholars in the south, as a way to contest.


Northern relationships of power. Northern senses of value,in particular, what, what these group of scholars were trying to do was change this idea of valuation of former colonized economies articulated in contemporary political debates around the time of the Vietnam War. So in some in some type of way what they were trying to do was to try and capture the ways in which new global political alliances were forming as an alternative to cold war politics of the tar at the time, or this binary of imperialist capitalism and communist states, and we know in particular, India was quite a leader, if we think about the non-aligned movement so trying. So the non-alignment movement was a movement from the global south. But the language of the global south at the same time was emerging in the global north to try and articulate this political change and to articulate the ways in which nation states, particularly informal European economies were attempting to particular former European colonies, and were attempting to undertake their own path of development, so that they were no longer dependent upon the former colonizers to secure the economic development pathways. So whilst we had political independence.


Within former colonial states. We didn’t necessarily have economic independence. So part of the struggle of the non alignment movement was actually to develop independent economic pathways that separated its economic dependence. From the form of a former colonizers, which many of you would know as dependency theories of development, or this idea of needing to disconnect from the former colonial powers, and also to one of the other main areas was to ideologically reposition the majority world in global political debates, outside of this normative framing of the time that was particularly dominant in the 60s and 70s as developing economies and third world economies, which utilize an implicit framework of not just less power, but it’s actually these ideas of third world and second world economies, or developing economies, as juxtaposed to a developed economy suggested that it was an economy, a country, a nation state of less value, particularly if we think about the term third world economies, one of the reasons, that’s been argued extensively why the global south has been adopted, much more broadly, is because it’s the idea of aiming, it, it suggests, this idea of national sovereignty between nation states have the same level of power, and that the institutions the communities and the peoples within the global south, have their own value that is equal to and cannot be measured against all compared with that of the global north. So, even though it’s the global south as a definition, always sits in this relationship to the global north, the idea of having this idea of the global south, was to recognize these countries for their own value and the kinds of relationships that were being established, particularly in processes such as the non-alignment movement, which aim to form political blocks as distinct from that of us imperialism, or former colonial powers. So, the global south, even though it emerges from a global north discourse in and of itself by a bunch of eclectic thinkers who come together to try and think about new ways of how we have a discourse, to understand the global relations of power that were emerging as a result, particularly the result of the Vietnam War. What we know is that there’s been a rapid adoption of this term particularly since the 2000s, because it’s increasingly adopted by scholars within the global south to assert their own position of power in terms of democratic institutions ideological positions.


Instant relationships between nation states, but also the changing broader political economic structures.So, and I guess one great example of that is bricks so you know the relationship between Brazil, Russia, India and China to, to try and capture these economies, which really are no longer emerging emerging markets. They really as as an integrated base are able to assert their own positions of power within the global economy.So, but and partly this really also emerges. And we know from the collapse of the Cold War. What we see is radical reforms within the global economy. And, and we can no longer also have that that kind of phrase ology of a first world, a second world and a third world. So some of these long standing historical positions that were had a level of validity during the second during last century, no longer have that kind of validity anymore, because the global system of power has actually changed.


And, I mean, the global system of power particularly since 2008 has changed so radically even since Trump even further, if we think about some of the kinds of, I guess disruption that he’s tried to create in the global south because of the emerging political, economic power of the global south within the global north. Some scholars even argue that while Steen’s world systems theory, where we think about, you know, where is the center of power lie. And where is, you know, so the Metropole and who sits at the peripheral has radically changed as well.


So, I think we need to think about the global south as really a really dynamic and changing a definition, something that can’t be captured. Simply, but it is really trying to contest. This idea of the dominance of the global north as maintaining power. And I mean really, there are a few. I mean there are some but if we think about coming out of the Second World War, if we think about the Bretton Woods institutions that established these global institutions such as the IMF the World Bank and the UN, and so forth. You know, these since this time. This, particularly the end of the Cold War, and then coming into the 2000s. This you know there has been significant changes to the political economy. And that’s placed a number of tensions on these, what were historically normative structures of power that maintained. This idea of a global north and the global south, and that has radically changed.


I guess this kind of comes to my other question my third question, which is, do I think we should use it as a term, given that it’s constantly under undergoing these kind of stresses and pools, and what sits within the global south, is radically changing all the time, particularly if we think about that the global south is not just thinking about a geographical space or one dimension the political power. But, you know, there are multiple dimensions of power here. And that’s not just political power but we’re thinking of economic power cultural power representative power. Even, and, you know, these can be measured from multiple empirical kind of lines of inquiry.


Before I want to go on and argue, you know, while why it’s generally accepted, and why why and how I use it.

I do want to refer to Thomas Hyland Erickson’s work of 2015, who, who has a number of.

I guess contest stations queries suggests a number of limitations. And some of these, I agree with. And that is, I mean, the first thing he says is, you know, we should be a little bit skeptical of a term that rapidly becomes fashionable, such as the global south. And, which it has and, you know, I’m, I’m just as guilty of promoting this idea of the global south.And the reason why I’m guilty of it is because I do think it has political import. And as someone who’s lived in the global south for extensive periods during the 90s and spent extensive time there during the 2000s. It was a term taught to me by people who were from the global south. So that’s one of the things I will discuss later is who’s using this language. And why are they using it.


One of the key issues about the global south, and I think it’s particularly true around disability is, it doesn’t. If we say the global south, it has one of the problems is, is that it, it has it risks homogenizing countries is as a set of equal power relationships between those different nation states, and we seen those nation states. So, that is a limitation in and of itself, of the idea of the global south. And so we need to think about, I guess, you know, that when we do research or when we’re thinking about engaging, or testing out technologies. And we’re thinking about the global self, we need to be very mindful and conscious that there are hierarchies within the global south, in and of itself. And some of these are long standing and historical. Some of these were brought in by colonizers, and some of these have emerged as the power relationships have begun to change, particularly with the start of independence in the 40s and 50s, and then the way the political struggles for power and equality and representation has changed in in the global south itself. One of the other issues, which I think is also a problem with the structure of the whole narrative around decolonization is this idea is that it’s grounded in this idea of a methodological nationalism. So, and you know, nationalism or the idea of the nation state is in of itself, a Western invention, and we know this whole idea of borders, particularly within the global south is something that’s always under contestation in your own region up north, there’s constant discussion and debate about, you know, what are the borders and boundaries. So, this idea that the global south consists of finite nations that are corralled in particular borders.


You know comes into question.

And, I mean, we can just think of Sudan, where you know the borders have recently changed. So, you know, it’s grounded in a particular form of mythological nationalism.

Somehow argue that one of the issues with the global south, is it is a term that it works for the elite.Because of its process of homogenizing across the nation, rather than looking deeper.


At the kinds of hierarchies that emerge, particularly post 60  with changes in global political economies and the kinds of internal inequalities and insecurities that emerge, and the kinds of inequalities and insecurities that emerge in the later 1990s post the Cold War, and then again in the 2000s.


The other issue too, is you know, one of the things that has happened in the global south. You know its initial intent is, I guess, understanding that its initial intent was about to was really about trying to define this relationship of economic independence of former colonized countries from the colonizer by setting up different economic relations, such as the model of the Third World non alignment movement. Sorry, which they’ll trying to do, but actually what’s happened increasingly is that we know that under this model of global north global south, particularly the way that the World Bank and the IMF. Use this notion of the global north and the global south, that actually countries in the global south are seen as emerging markets, and therefore, promoting a global north definition of what capitalist development is with the neo-liberalization of the global economy. So, you know, its origin of trying to establish a counter narrative or an alternative narrative to the dominance of a particular economic structure that was grounded in a form of some people arguing with imperialism, other people argue a form of Western political liberalism, because of the idea of the individual.


So, you know, increasingly what it represents at the geopolitical or the end the political, economic, is actually an integration of the, of the south into these northern frameworks. So, Erickson asked the question, is it really is it really an idea of contestation in terms of its original.

Its, its original framework or has it moved and shifted. Since then, and, um, I guess the other thing is that one of the critiques is because of this ongoing focus on the political economic level, it actually misses out on the richness of differentiation diversity, or within, within different nation states itself, and relationships across borders and boundaries around the cultural symbolic realm. So, how people imagine belonging to community and the kinds of rich cultural practices that emerge on the ground at the local level.


And, you know, if we don’t incorporate that into a narrative around what is the global south where we’re only focusing on economic inequality. And, you know, what we could lead to a processes of population decimation or disposition. In, in trying to forge this path of rapid development.


And so, the other issue. I guess is Erickson doesn’t really highlight this but it’s one thing that I would suggest, living in a country such as Australia. And that is, you know, one of the problems with this with the dominance of this idea of the global south and the global north, in terms of its methodological nationalism. It really misses out on white settler colonial societies, such as Australia, where we know it. According to UN DESA so the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, that Indigenous Australians or First Nations Australians, you know have in some parts of Australia have a lower significantly lower levels of lifespan. You know they have higher levels of disability I mean it’s almost twice the rate of non-Indigenous Australians have disability. They have, you know, they sit in the lowest quintiles of income inequality. So one of the things when we think about the global south. Is it really just about, and this is the problem with its methodological nationalism. Is it really about the boundaries of particular nation states and the kind of geopolitics that situates these nation states in global relations of power, or is it much more broader than this, to think about where different hierarchies of peoples and communities. Actually, are situated within this situation. And that’s where Dr. Maha, actually, one of the things he said we’d be really interested in some of your indigenous research.


And I don’t haven’t done indigenous research within the global south, but I do a lot of indigenous research with people in Australia and Canada, and one of the reasons you know as someone who spent extensive periods of time in the global south. You know there are many instances where I would definitely say in terms of the there are instances in white settler colonial societies where poverty inequality so some of the markers that we suggest for the global south are far more entrenched in terms of inequality within indigenous Australia.


Okay, I just realized I’m going on for a long time. Sorry about that. So, um, so.

So one of the things is, I use the global, I use the term the global south. And I actually use it from desisa sentences work coming out of 2008, and a sister Santos, is a legal scholar. And I particularly like his work called knowledge is possible, because I think what he does is he creates an opportunity to think about the richness and diversity, or the ecology of knowledges that exist beyond this dominance of the Western Academy within them within the North. So you know what he actually argues as Southern knowledges. We’re not just talking about you know this geopolitical or political economy.


All these relationships of inequality, what we’re thinking about is ways of being ways of doing and ways of knowing the world in the world that are substantially different between that within the global south. Often a highly localized and situated to the dominance of the global north that is dominated by this kind of political liberalism of individual of individualism and individual competitive ism increasingly increasingly under neoliberal neoliberalism. So practices of embodiment and engaging in the world are locally grounded and locally grounded in relationships of power. So, we need to think more broadly about individuals in their embodied context of everyday life, and how they understand and ascribe meaning to that. And that is a southern knowledge, far more of political import, rather than adopting practices of Western political liberalism that frames, I guess what we would say in Australia with indigenous scholars is of what we would call a form of epistemic racism or epistemic violence that tries to shut out other ways of knowing, or understanding. So this is where I think this center is really kind of exciting, because what it’s trying to do is understand different ways of engaging with technology as a form of everyday practice.


What I’m going to do is quickly just say that one of the things in working with indigenous people in Australia is, is one of the things that I have begun to really take on this idea that, you know, part of Southern knowledge is not about coming in as the expert and the or Knower, but understanding and accepting and listening. So in Australia in indigenous politics, there’s a particular narrative that we call the politics of deep listening, and that is listening to how others describe themselves how others understand their engagement in the world. And we use those forms of self-identification, as Southern knowledges rather than trying to box that into Western epistemologies or ways of knowing and being so. So, when we work in collaboration with other peoples and other communities. How did they self describe.

And, and then how do we articulate that, and their expression of who they are. In, and how they understand and engage in the world. And I guess for  Niro and I that’s been particularly important with this work that we’ve been doing in Sri Lanka.And our long standing work which is our recent book that Dr. Manohar just mentioned at the beginning, that will be coming out. That’s actually out now in hardcopy. It’s got 2021 on it, but it’s actually recently been released.


So that’s been particularly important in using the idea of, and using the tools of narrative an in depth narrative, so people can actually engage in their own story to tell us to, to show us how to understand, and the other one that that I’ve been using a lot in Australia with digital tools, is this idea of ethnographic motilities, where it’s people engage in practices of self-documentation. So they’re actually documenting their own story and being their own observers to produce knowledge for the world.


So, what does that mean in terms of disability and disability processes and neuro.

Shall we talk a little bit about now getting on to our case studies in Sri Lanka and talk a little bit about that is that.



Niro Kandasamy:


So we’ve been as Karen has just said, doing research work and advocacy work with Sinhalese Tamil and Muslim women in Sri Lanka, in post conflict Sri Lanka. For quite some years now, and basically what we’ve been trying to do is understand their lived experiences.


And one of the first things that really struck us was the kinds of intersectional deeply intersectional experiences that these women are kind of implicated in in a lot of ways that really affect how they live their everyday lives. And so we find that there are clear differences, you know, while there are clear differences between Tamil Sinhalese and Muslim women, they also share similarities in terms of the ablest discourses that they need to navigate to just, you know, everything from accessing welfare benefits from the government to dealing with social stigma, in their communities.


And in, in sort of the recent months we’ve continued our research with them to try and understand how COVID has affected their lives. And it’s been really, you know, it’s been hugely, I think, revealing for us to see how deeply COVID COVID has kind of really impacted their survival in a lot of ways. These women find themselves in really precarious situations much more so than the general population. So I think maybe what we might do Karen is to just maybe highlight some of the experiences of the women so I might begin with, with a woman that we interviewed called Nisha. Nisha is a Muslim woman who lives with an impairment in her leg and Nisha, is an advocate, a disability advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities. and she’s quite vocal in her community. She owns a watch repair business in quite an important and religious historic site in Sri Lanka and she uses her watch repair shop to financially support herself.


And she’s, you know, being quite active in her local community. And COVID has really transformed her life in so many different ways. She’s had to close her business, which means she’s been living at home and has really kind of struggled to, you know, to have income. And she, she you know she tells us how, you know, because of the fact that she doesn’t have income at the moment. And with curfews that she’s faced numerous obstacles, regarding her safety her. Her economic viability in the future. She’s not quite sure where her life is really heading at the moment.


And she also raises some really crucial points about the experiences that women with disabilities face in terms of for example, you know even going to the shops when they are going for those limited hours and not being able to feel safe and finding that, you know, you know the hygiene or, you know, it’s not up to standard. And the fact that the roads are not safe for her to be traveling on by herself and she finds out because of the limited hours that she can be outside it’s really restricting her mobility. And so she relies quite heavily on her family to support her, which would be the case.


Outside of this outside of COVID. Another example is a common woman who we interviewed who lives in a remote area. And this woman experiences again a severe lack of kind of access to basic supports that have intensified during the COVID period. And this is due to the fact that she does you know she lives in a rural area. And so she’s unable to travel at kind of, you know, the times that she wouldn’t be able to if it wasn’t COVID, but also the fact that she’s unable to access government supports again as well.


And, you know, we really kind of started to see that these themes were quite common across these women that we interviewed. And so, one thing that was really quite similar across their experiences with this question about access to technology and the role of technology in their everyday lives. And so one thing that’s happened in Sri Lanka as elsewhere is the kind of transfer of information to online platforms. And so the Sri Lankan government like a lot of other governments has been communicating information about COVID restrictions for example in public health messages on social media and government websites, and so on. And so what we’ve really found are kind of two main issues related to technology. In, in the lives of these women with disabilities and the first one relates to access to technology. And the second one relates to actually navigating online systems. So, I mean just quickly on the first point for you know for some of these women who live in rural areas, is really very little opportunity for them or their families to have access to technology, and it’s quite stark between their experiences and the experiences of people who live in urban areas like Colombia or even Jaffna town, for example, the impacts are quite profound for these women.


 This one particular woman is, you know, she’s a young come a woman with multiple, multiple disabilities, and was in the final stages of completing her bachelor’s degree and she’s aspiring to be a teacher, but more immediately the you know the reality is that for women like her, not having access to technology puts her out of reach for receiving just basic warfare assistance. I mean, so the fact that you know she didn’t you know she doesn’t have adequate or really any access to technology was quite telling about the kind of multiplicity and kind of the intersectional challenges that face women like her who live in rural areas.


And just quickly. The second issue was related to the impacts of, you know, even when people did have access to technology. There were really next to no supports available to them to develop their digital literacy skills. So, the people, the women that we interviewed had difficulties reaching out to government officials and, you know, in the sense that their mobile phones were often unresponsive, there were difficulties in receiving the allocated aid. And that was due to not being able to navigate government websites. And this was especially the case for people.


For them, you know, with their various impairments and they did sort of raise additional points about other people with disabilities who had for example visual and hearing and paint impairments who who couldn’t really kind of navigate, You know, these public health messages and websites to get access to government assistance. So really, when we talk about I think technology and the lived experiences of people with disabilities, it’s you know it’s  important to think about their experiences in intersectional terms because for the women that we interviewed, they navigate not only sort of challenges that emerge from the agenda but also their race and their class. Their morality and so on. So, they’re probably.


Karen Soldatic:

I mean, the thing is, you know, we often think of the digital space, particularly around platforms devices.And we think about digitalization from that angle at the individual level but there’s also the broader infrastructure levels and I guess this is one thing that we know that is quite significantly different between the global north and the global south, is that often in countries such as Sri Lanka that had long standing conflict. What it means is, is that the infrastructure that is necessary to provide to provide the appropriate level of digital engagement on par is, is, is not that the infrastructure is not there, the state hasn’t invested that infrastructure. Part of that is about the history of colonization. And then the journey from, from there, and part of it too is with neoliberalization, you know is the ongoing privatization of public infrastructure. And therefore, you know, public infrastructure is only developed so far too so many regions where it’s actually profitable, unless there’s kind of a service agreement between the state and and capital as part of that investment. So, so, so there are some historical differences that emerge in the global south, particularly around broader structures of infrastructure that we need to think about in terms of digitization and automation and in Sri Lanka under COVID, it’s one thing that we, you know, there were the issues of class in terms of people, you know, unable to have actually the kinds of devices that enable digital engagement with government welfare platforms and so forth.

And, you know, that’s because a the expensive devices are not affordable.


There’s also the relationships of power where people are used to being so someone like Nisha she’s used to actually being independent and the reason why she has her own business is so she can actually be independent. But because of social protection regimes under within a country like Sri Lanka.So, typical of the global south. When we think about social protection, in and of itself, and the kinds of inequalities that exist in social protection regimes, it means that she has to become dependent on her family.


Where in Australia, you know, there was extensive investment in COVID to support. So there was one quite significant difference between the global north and the global south with significant investment to keep people independent through supplying, ensuring extra hours for carriers and so forth. We’re in the global south in states aren’t necessarily making those kind of investments to enable people to continue their levels of independence. During this particular crisis situations, but the states make assumptions around digitization and disability, not just terms of literacy, but also in terms of equal kind of power relationships within the household that would give disabled people voice and agency, at home, to be able to ascertain, even if the infrastructure is there.


So, you know someone like Nisha, even though the infrastructure in in candy might be there she’s still reliant on her family members to navigate the digital interfaces.

And that, that in and of itself. You know creates a number of vulnerabilities and potential abuses of power that she wouldn’t be exposed to. If she didn’t have to rely on, on, on a digital interface nearer.


Niro Kandasamy:

I think. Yeah, I would agree with you, Karen I think what’s really emerged from our fieldwork in Sri Lanka is that the role of family and society so critical. Even if technology is available to people. I mean, as I said one issue is being able to navigate those systems but secondly what’s more important, or equally important, is, is having that support having support from family and society, to be able to kind of really, kind of, I guess, you know, be the foundational basis for you navigating the everyday world because I mean the technology is there and important, but it’s only as effective as a society, and the governmental structures in place that are going to give you access to welfare employment and education and so on. So it needs to. I think the development has to happen simultaneously.


And what we found, especially with women who live in rural areas is, you know, they face. You know multitude of problems. And to be able to address them. I think we need to consider. As I said their intersectional experiences. So technology, you know, having access to, to food to education to employment all has to happen in a much more integrated fashion.


Karen Soldatic:

And we also found in the rural areas that you might, you know you even if you have access to technology because of the development of roads, times of delivery. The availability of food within rural areas. You know, you might you might be able to order something online but, or you might have the, the possibility of in digital engagement to get services and goods delivered, but you know they might not actually be able to come for periods of time due to other forms of infrastructure, and an environment that navigate that so technology really has to be, I guess some, you know, often we focus on things like the smartphone, How do we make that accessible different forms of engagement, but we need to think about technology, I guess, as, as, as an integrated platform to our other areas of life, to ensure that it’s fully accessible and affordable and adaptable for people with disabilities, particularly in the global south where there are different types of challenges that might emerge.



So, I think got maybe about five minutes to wrap up so we’ll have some 10 minutes for questions.


Karen Soldatic:

Yeah, I think so, I think, um, I think, overall, um, one thing that we need to think about is that um you know when we think about accessibility, we need to think about accessibility, much more than technological literacy and know how and immediate devices and platforms, but we need to think about the relationships of power that the person is embedded, and how much agency autonomy and control, they actually have over their technology so that’s one of the things that we found with the women in Sri Lanka that we that we interviewed during COVID, is that, you know it’s not just access to that technology but you know how much autonomy and control and agency, do they have over, that technology so they’re able to maintain their own well being. So, you know, other issues of privacy. How do they you know how to, how do people with disabilities maintain.


You know, it’s, it’s not just, it’s, it’s the three of them have autonomy agency and privacy, particularly when we know women with disabilities in particular, often have a lower color class or caste, and therefore don’t necessarily have access to independent resources are reliant on family members so you know we’ll have structural patriarchal relationships of power, and also assumptions around women and their sexuality and so forth and the kinds of vulnerabilities that that might mean for a woman with disabilities and therefore, you know, her not actually having access to, to these different types of technologies, but also to we need to think about, I guess the broader structures, or what we call critical infrastructures.


In the cultural humanities where we think about, you know how, what kinds of social infrastructures and actually exist to enable you know these kind of digital interventions that will generate individual or, you know, social group autonomy and agency. And when they’re not there. What kinds of things fall into fill that vacuum and what kind of issues.

Does that mean created where they don’t have access to those same resources on par. Okay, I think we’re done.



So, I request for this question already, but I request people to type in your questions on chat. And I will pick them through in the order, we get. But first of all, thanks a lot, Karen. I think especially to spending the time on global South has been very instructive.


And so let me get on with the questions. Thank you. I’ll come back to that, a lot more. When we have time with the question from Amit,


Audience Question1:

Thank you Karen and Niro for a wonderful talk.With a greater need to listen in to the self-description of indigenous social groups as part of attending to aspects concerning the Global South, do you feel, technology design also needs a new approach? For example, something that can be driven much more by these indigenous voices (the autonomy that you referred to perhaps), than a more homogenous development process with claims of global reach and efficiency, which may be far removed from these lived experiences.


Karen Soldatic:

That’s a really interesting question. Um, because I think, I think, I think there is the issue of codesign so I’m currently working on a project in Australia.With comparing two areas around class around different kinds of ethnic and religious backgrounds and access to technology. And what happens. What, what is really interesting in this project is they take their technologies, and they adapt and they change them, and they manipulate them, and it’s kind of this form of hacking that we’ve never ever received seen, really, to meet both their disability needs. And the way and their socio cultural, linguistic needs. And so they’re doing that all at once, and their preference is, if they had the opportunity to start in the space of CO design. In terms of. So if. So for people with disabilities, particularly from people with disabilities who are outside the mainstream with all their other markers of distinction code sign really is, is, is the way that they would prefer to go, and one of the reasons for that is to is, once you start, you know one of the things that we find particularly in the indigenous or in Australia what we call the cultural and ethnically diverse space is that because, you know, non-white bodies are in a white society are already marked by attitudes against them in terms of racism and so forth. A lot of the time that I want to claim disability. So, if they can have a mainstream technology that they can hack and amend, so people don’t know that they have a disability. They much prefer to do that, then actually have some kind of technology that’s specifically designed for them, because they don’t want to within their own community where they belong. They don’t want to highlight that they might be different in some way. And then when they get into the white community to navigate everyday life going to work public transport, whatever it is, because they already have a marker of difference, they also don’t, they don’t want to add another, which might increase, you know them to forms of violence or abuse and so forth went on the street. So, we increasingly find in this project that mainstream, that if if mainstream devices platforms technologies can be designed in a way that can be hacked, so people can hack into them for their own personal use. They’d be much more taken up by by people with disabilities.


Audience Question2:

 I would like to ask why do you think psychosocial disability is invisibilised among the disability/cross-disability discouirse even though psychosocial disability has found place in global policy frameworks like UNCRPD


Karen Soldatic:

Um, that’s an interesting question I’m not sure that it’s invisible alized it might be invisible alized in terms of disability language, but I think psychosocial disability is highly visible alized in health discourse around mental health language.


So around. And, and I think it’s the one area that, as, as, as a group of people with disabilities, has really kind of has the medical fraternity has been able to hold on to its power in terms of labeling psychosocial disability as a mental health issue where other disability groups have been able to harness the social model and the right space model of disability to create a really a new discourse, but the psycho social group. I mean, we call them psychosocial but really if you think about government frameworks, if you think about the who, you know everyone’s going on about a mental a global mental health crisis. And that’s really a health based agenda, not a disability rights agenda. And so I think is, yes it is invisible lies within the disability discourse. But I think in terms of medical health discourse psycho social is hyper visible visible lized around this medicalization of mental health. And, yeah, so I think we need to unpack that in terms of who’s got the power in defining this term. Um, it’s a bit like the how I try to think about the global south it’s that similar idea of who’s got the power. Who’s talking about it. And what kind of meaning, are they trying to ascribe to it by classifying it as a mental health rather than psychosocial disability.





Thank you for the call this precise anyone has a question I have one, I think I’m referring to Niro thanks a lot for your presentation of your field work, we will want more and hear from you more. So you mentioned an interesting point about in spite of technology being their family and neighbors are the best support that people with disabilities get especially the global south. In view of this. Is it a possibility to think about technology. You know, designing technology for interdependence, rather than independence, may be more relevant to the global south, given the lack of infrastructure government support, the ability to access the support. What are your thoughts on it either you Nero or Karen, both of you. Thank you.


Niro Kandasamy:

Yeah, so I think the point, which, maybe I should have made clear is, you know, the, the kind of multiple problems that are challenges that these women face. Kind of makes us wonder how or whether it’s possible to have technology being developed alongside, you know, family support societal supports government supports infrastructure so all the things that Karen was talking about. So is it possible to think about technology as, not a separate thing, but as being a part of, you know, all of the other changes that need to take place for that technology to be successful and effective. So, is having, you know, is it possible that we can think about technology in a way that would also, you know, perhaps help the way society thinks about women with disabilities. Is it possible to think about technology in ways that might help young people with disabilities have better access to education. So I think the thinking has to happen simultaneously it’s not for me from the work that we’ve done in Sri Lanka, it appears that you know technology’s one part, but is it possible to think about it as being more integrated into other aspects of their lives. Because they do face multiple challenges,you know, due to their race due to their class to their gender, and so on. So, yeah, it’s, it’s, I guess, the possibilities of technology in kind of everyday lives.


Participant Question 3:

You mentioned basically two issues: Access to technology and navigation of technology esp by PwDs. So what action has happened to resolve these issues, in particular by the govt? What about the education of PwDs? I am interested in understanding the measures taken by the govt.


Yeah. So, very little has been done. Yeah, so when we did the interviews for this preliminary research it was in May.

The kind of, you know, really things, the restrictions restrictions were really intensifying and to anchor. And at that point of doing the interviews.There, you know, we really didn’t we really didn’t see much improvements in the access that these people had to support from the government.We haven’t done any follow up interviews with those people, but our understanding of the situation there is that there’s been there appears to be an increase in the number of COVID cases and the government has recently returned to its harsh COVID restrictions. So I think, you know, from looking at what the government’s been doing since, since May. It doesn’t appear that much has changed and I can’t imagine that much has changed in terms of the experiences of people with disabilities. So I think it would be quite useful if. Yeah, I think, you know, for us to to interview these people again to do that kind of ethnographic research that’s required to see what’s changed over time, and how people perhaps have also found ways to overcome the limitations or found ways to navigate government structures that are in place or measures in place, Karen, would you like to add to that, I think, um, I think Nero’s last point about how people overcome I mean one thing.




Karen Soldatic:

I mean I know it’s very different in certain places in Sri Lanka is a very different, you know, in some ways, I guess, because of its size, and its population base but one thing we have found is, and it could be because we were often working with women who, as part of the project to become advocates or they want to, you know, they have an interest in becoming an advocate and that’s why they’re contacting us.


But I guess the thing that we find is that, you know, they’re, they have incredible skills in trying to overcome the barriers that are put up before them. And that, even even things like if they don’t feel they can trust family members. They work out other ways to get access to the resources that they need.


I don’t think that’s for a lot of the women that we have a lot of women with disabilities but in the case because we are working with women who have actively taken up their an identity as a disability advocate. It’s something that we find that they’re very creative in trying to transform the limitations imposed upon them with, with the limitations around infrastructure, you know, affordability accessibility and so forth. So, yeah, I think.


Yeah, I think we do need to do more research, particularly given that there’s a second lockdown. But there is the, they do seem to the woman that we have been working with over a number of years. As we document in the book.


Really, really engaged in activation processes to not just survive but through there to thrive in, with all of the limitations placed upon them.


Niro Kandasamy:

Just adding to that one thing that emerged was the kind of resilience and resistance to limitations that these women were demonstrating so you know we did find that as a result of these government restrictions women were studying to find ways of organizing, and I think that’s an area of research that definitely needs more attention.


Participant Question 4:

. This is an amazing talk with great insight from the grassroot level by question. Are there any social support groups, particularly on disability within the indigenous community that are working in adaptation of mainstream technology.


Karen Soldatic:

I’m happy to answer that one. So indigenous community in Australia.

I’m assuming you’re talking about their. The indigenous community are really interesting and how they use and how they use technology so one thing is, first of all, so you know everyone talks about drones and drones being a highly militarized device for what what indigenous communities in Australia, particularly in rural and remote areas have started to use drones, as ways to map land around what they call indigenous country. so they can make claims for that particular area of land in that the way that they use phones, the way that they use different apps.

There’s, It’s quite a number of communities in what we call the outback or the bush that are utilizing mainstream technologies in a way so that they can communicate with each other to sustain well being. There are issues around. There are concerns around too much internet access being a distraction for younger people, but in terms of indigenous communities.

So then, one of the NGOs that I work with and do research with is the National Center for indigenous excellence. And they have a whole program around developing technology, and adapting technology interfaces with rural and remote indigenous kids, including kids with disabilities and learning disabilities to enable them to engage in education and so forth so yes there’s lots and lots going on.



Okay, I think we would love to continue but i think is a time to close even very good things. So I’d like to thank both Karen and Nero, for sharing their work and been extremely enlightening for me personally, especially the discourse on global south, and the contentions around the use of the phrase, why where and how and by whom has been very useful. At the beginning I was beginning to wonder. Hmm, maybe we rushed to name the center as a center for accessibility in the global south, but I think at the end of the completion of the discourse I am convinced that being in India, which itself is such a heterogeneous population. Everywhere you look, we have a lot to learn and to contribute to the general area of disability in the global south. So I thank you, especially for this lecture and look forward to working with Karen and De Niro, as we go forward. On behalf of everyone at the center and everyone in the audience. Very, very, a lot of thanks to you, and I appreciate your time and your presentation. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you. You’re welcome over to you.


Karen Soldatic:

Thank you. And happy to talk more about the global south but I personally think it’s the right name. Thank you. Thank you.


Over the last ten years, disability inequality and exclusion within the Global South has gained increased attention from researchers, practitioners and policy makers, particularly since the release of the World Report on Disability (WHO 2011). Given this global attention, it should not be surprising that disability in the global south has emerged as a core area of international development. Core global development frameworks, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, explicitly identify and articulate disabled people as central to any development initiative.  Global donor bodies, such as the World Bank, are propelling local states to be inclusive of, and responsive to, disability in localised state resource mobilisation and economic development. This presentation will seek to historically situate the critical role of disabled people and their strategies of activism and advocacy in changing international global policy frameworks. It will then move to examine the critical role of digitisation and automation within the global economy and the localised impacts this will have on disabled people’s livelihoods and wellbeing within the Global South.


Karen Soldatic is Associate Professor, School of Social Sciences & Institute Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University. She was awarded a Fogarty Foundation Excellence in Education Fellowship for 2006–2009, a British Academy International Fellowship in 2012, a fellowship at The Centre for Human Rights Education at Curtin University (2011–2012), where she remains an Adjunct Fellow, and an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellowship (2016–2019). She obtained her PhD (Distinction) in 2010 from the University of Western Australia. Her research on Disability in Global South builds on her 20 years of experience as an international (Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia) senior policy analyst, researcher and practitioner. She is a founding international editor for the multi-lingual journal Disability & the Global South and has published extensively in the area including co-leading a number of key international anthologies (Disability & The Global South: The Critical Handbook, 2016; Disability & Colonialism, 2016; The Global Politics of Impairment and Disability: Processes and Embodiments, 2014). Karen’s forthcoming book with Dinesha Samararatne is the outcome of a 10-year project in partnership with women with disabilities from across the former conflict zones of Sri Lanka:  Women with Disabilities as Agents of Peace, Change and Rights (Routledge, 2021).


Karen is Istro-Romanian, the smallest ethnolinguistic minority group in Europe, formally recognised by UNESCO as under severe socio-cultural and ethnolinguistic threat on the verge of disappearance. Karen’s research on Australian society and settler colonialism is shaped by her lived experience of being the child of immigrants : her father, an illegal immigrant upon his arrival and her mother, removed from her family under Australia’s child removal policies of the time ( This combined personal experience informs her socio-political understandings of disability, marginality and intersectionality.