IGF 2023 DC-Gender Disability, Gender, and Digital Self-Determination

Wednesday, 11th October, 2023 (04:30 UTC) - Wednesday, 11th October, 2023 (05:30 UTC)
WS 6 – Room E

Dynamic Coalition on Gender and Internet Governance

Panel - 60 Min


Affordable Access
Digital, Media, and Information Literacy
Gender Digital Divide
Skills Building for Basic and Advanced Technologies (Meaningful Access)


As our daily digital footprints grow, human society is grappling with new concepts, experiences and understandings of the relationships between our lives and the technologies that we use. Who are we as digital beings? Are we able to determine our ‘selves’ in a data-driven society? How do we locate ourselves as empowered data subjects in the digital age? How do we re-imagine human autonomy, agency and sovereignty in the age of datafication? Self-determination has been a foundational concept related to human existence, with distinct yet overlapping cultural, social, psychological, philosophical understandings built over time. Similarly, Digital Self-Determination (DSD) is a complex notion re-shaping what we understand as self-determination itself. DSD fundamentally affirms that a person’s data is an extension of themselves in cyberspace, and we need to consider how individuals and communities can have autonomy over our digital selves. Through a panel discussion centering intersectional feminist perspectives, with women, queer and trans persons with disabilities and experts working in the intersections of disability rights, gender, accessibility and technology, we will explore the idea of DSD through the lens of gender and lived experiences of persons with disabilities. Drawing from a first-of-its-kind series of DSD studios organized by Point of View in four cities in India, the panel will focus on the theme of digital divides and inclusion and also: 1) delve into the ability of women, gender and sexual minorities living with disabilities to digitally self-determine themselves using current/emerging digital technologies, based on lived realities of individuals from different geographies and contexts; 2) deepen understandings of the need and potential to work with persons with disabilities in developing new and emerging technologies; and 3) explore collaborative and learning opportunities to make DSD actionable and a reality for women, queer and trans persons living with disabilities. Through the lens of gender, sexuality and disability, the session will explore a bridge between access points and ‘pain-points’, and think of inclusive ways of determining the self in new digital life spaces, going beyond accessibility and also thinking about personhood, agency, choice, autonomy, rights and freedoms in digital spaces for persons with disabilities. We will draw from our experience of the DSD studios and as outcomes: 1) articulate an exploration of the root concept of DSD and its key components through the lens of disabilities and gender; 2) think of how we can co-create DSD through theory, practice, lived experiences, and concrete examples; and 3) operationalise DSD via a set of core principles and policy recommendations centering the intersections of gender and disability.

We will have a pre-designed session plan and online and onsite moderators to facilitate interaction between online and onsite participants and speakers. The moderators will ensure that online and onsite participants are provided equal time and opportunity to ask questions and share their reflections. Onsite questions will be collected by the moderator on-ground, and online participants will share their questions and reflections using Zoom chat which will be collated by the online moderator. We also need Live captions enabled on Zoom to ensure a more accessible experience of the session.


Debarati Das; Co-Lead, Capacity Building, Point of View; Civil Society; India (Asia and the Pacific)

Bishakha Datta; Programme Lead, Point of View; Civil Society; India (Asia and the Pacific)

Padmini Ray Murray; Founder, Design Beku; Civil Society; India (Asia and the Pacific)


Nirmita Narasimhan, Programme Director, Saksham and Senior Fellow and Programme Director with the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICT, Civil Society, India (Asia and the Pacific)

Judy Okite; Senior Consultant, Accessibility and Equality; KICTANet; Civil Society; Kenya (Africa)

Manique Gunaratne; Executive Committee Member of the Asia Pacific Women with Disability United, Vice Chair Person of the South Asian Disability Forum; Civil Society; Sri Lanka (Asia and the Pacific)

Vidhya Y; Founder, Vision Empower; Civil Society; India (Asia and the Pacific)

Padmini Ray Murray; Founder, Design Beku; Civil Society; India (Asia and the Pacific) [Online moderator]

Gunela Astbrink; Director, ISOC Australia; Civil Society; Australia [Onsite moderator]

Onsite Moderator

Gunela Astbrink

Online Moderator

Padmini Ray Murray


Debarati Das


5. Gender Equality

Targets: The session addresses issues around self-determination for women, gender and sexual minorities living with disabilities in digital spaces, such as, access, autonomy, choice, personhood, agency and power, which are essential to their rights, freedoms and empowerment. The panel will explore both barriers and enabling factors that women, queer and trans persons with disabilities experience in digital spaces, that limit or enable their self-determination, and recommend ways in which meaningful access and inclusion can be achieved in new digital life spaces, which is crucial to promoting the empowerment of women and gender minorities living with disabilities.

Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Accessible design: not an afterthought, mobile phone-friendly, with easy interfaces. A multistakeholder approach to digital accessibility where the onus is not just on people with disabilities to fix the accessibility problems. Involving persons with disabilities in technology design and development processes - learning from experiences across genders, sexualities, class, caste locations. Integrating digital accessibility in formal education.

Thinking about how accessible and affordable technology is for people with disabilities across caste and class locations. Accessibility barriers are also defined by who builds tech and who it is built for. What an inclusive policy framework can look like: ideas of inclusiveness that aren’t homogenised but are representative of a spectrum of disabled experiences.

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

A paradigmatic shift in how technologies are designed and developed. Instead of developing them at scale, accounting for nuanced and individual use experiences, and creating customised tech centred around layered and individualised experiences, rather than a one-size-fit-all approach.

Involving persons with disabilities in developing technologies as well as policies - recognising people with diverse disabilities as part of the digital ecosystem and digital spaces. Developing technologies and policies taking into account the diverse experiences of persons with physical and psychosocial disabilities and different layers of accessibility barriers when it comes to inhabiting and occupying digital spaces.

Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions


Lived experiences

Vidhya Y:

  • Digital space is huge - when we say tech, that’s the only way as a blind person I can communicate with the world. It opens up opportunities. Growing up in a village, I didn’t have access to tech and missed out on a lot. But when I got on to online platforms, there was so much I could do. I could access the news, know what time it is, communicate via emails. Most people don’t understand braille. 
  • Taking help from someone to type messages would mean I don’t have privacy over messages I want to say. Digital platforms have enabled many disabled people to have privacy and more autonomy over their choices.
  • Websites aren’t designed in a way all can access. There are a lot of images that aren’t labeled. 
  • For women with disabilities, the barriers are too many! It’s an irony. Digital platforms have given a lot of privacy but at the same time, you have to be so careful. When Covid happened and people were trying to get on online platforms, video calls were a must. I’d adjust my screen to point a bit downwards so people are not able to see much of me. But my sister observed and told me that the camera is actually at the top of the monitor and if you put it down, people can see you more clearly. 
  • I feel I have to take second opinion about a lot of things in the digital space. New things are coming up all the time.
  • When you’re using a screen reader, if you’re in a crowded place, you tend to misread content. Voice messages also have privacy issues: eg. in conferences I’m unable to use voice message.
  • Typing maybe easier if you have some other disability, but it’s a huge issue for visually impaired people. 

Gunela Astbrink:

  • A young woman in Africa, a wheelchair user, has speech impairments, limited use of one hand. She was determined to study IT and went to school, vocational college, and now she sometimes tutors other students. The way she uses smartphone/laptop is with her knuckles. That’s how she communicates with her digital tools.
  • When a person with a disability is online, there’s often a sense that we are all digital beings, and there’s an assumption that we’re all on the same level and will be able to use all tools. However, this isn’t the case. Tools, websites, platforms need to be made accessible. Important for tools and learning platforms etc. to be developed along with PwDs. 
  • Nothing about us without us - so that PwDs are able to be part of development and part of the digital community.

Privacy and security concerns

Vidhya Y:

  • Digital tools enable you to do a lot of things yourself, which wasn’t possible earlier. There are color recognisers, apps to tell you which currency you’re using, apps where sighted people sign up as volunteers for solving captchas etc. Captchas are designed as not being designed for machines so privacy isn’t compromised, but this is a barrier for many persons with visual impairments, if audio captchas are not enabled. Even if you can use a computer. If I want to get help in Kannada, local language, I won’t get help at night. But if you need help in English, there will be someone to assist you.
  • I conducted digital literacy trainings with school teachers. Guided them to installing these tools - we found really good uses: you can call them and the volunteer who picks up the phone, they’ll tell you to point your camera at the captcha on the computer. And guide you accordingly. People have used these technologies to even take support in matching their sarees with their bangles.
  • But you’re forced to depend on others at certain times. You’re also wary about where you’re pointing camera - what the other person can see - what data is being collected. At the end of banking transactions, if you have to enter captcha, you have to enter all other details beforehand, which means the person supporting you can see what all you have typed. It’s a huge privacy compromise.
  • Privacy concerns around how much of you should be visible to the other person: apart from your voice you aren’t sure what else is visible. A concern for women with disabilities.
  • For FB, IG etc.: If I were to upload photos I’ve taken during this conference to FB, my cousin will give me the photos with captions. But I don’t know if I’m missing anything in the photos - as I’m relying on the captions. Sometimes people have told me, only half your face is visible, or this photo shouldn’t have been taken.


Padmini Ray Murray:

  • Every device we use is compromised by some form of surveillance, and it’s very difficult for non-disabled people to wrap their heads around being online, use these devices and think about how to maintain their privacy.
  • Most devices or apps - even if they’re made for disabled users, might not be taking these considerations into account - while they’re being designed.
  • While there are accessibility guidelines, those are often just the baseline, and there’s much more nuanced requirements of disabled users that need to be taken into account.


Imagining inclusive tech

Manique Gunaratne:

  • Through assistive devices and tech, we’re able to work in an equally capable manner with non-disabled people.
  • The problem is often the cost factor in accessing technologies. Eg. for hearing impaired persons, they cannot hear if someone rings the bell. But they can access a picture of doorbell ringing through a smartphone.
  • For visually impaired people, smart glasses can identify what’s around us and provide a description of the surroundings.
  • For people with mobility difficulty, apps and technologies can help them find spaces they can access - restaurants, movie theater etc. Through hand gestures or facial expression if they can operate computers, they can also be employed and economically active.
  • Tech operating through brain functions.
  • Entertainment is not only for people without disabilities. Games, etc. need to be accessible. 
  • Technologies to give emotional recognition, especially for autistic people or those with intellectual disability.
  • Smart homes: PwDs can cook food of their choice, make domestic choices etc.

Judy Okite

  • For a long time, we’ve been advocating for physical accessibility at the IGF - hope it’s better this year. 
  • One of the things we did with KICTANet this year: Evaluated 46 govt websites, just to see how accessible information is for PwDs. Unfortunately, the highest they got was 80%. The feedback from the govt was interesting: people felt if you’re at 80% you’re at a good space. But actually it means 20% of your content is not accessible to PwDs.
  • From research we did: more emphasis is placed on persons who are blind when it comes to digital content. But persons with cognitive disability are more disadvantaged. If the content is not understandable/perceivable, then you’ve lost this person - they will not be able to interact with your content.
  • In Kenya, only about 2 years ago, cognitive disability was recognised as a disability. So we can see how far we are on inclusion. 
  • How do we ensure that PwDs are part of our change - not just because they want to, but because they have to be a part of the process.
  • Forum for Freedom in Jerusalem - in Tanzania - they know my needs on physical platforms - worked with them before. There was a ramp, but I still needed to be lifted up to reach the ramp. They had an accessible room but very small cubicles for washrooms - so I called the guy from the reception who came with a wheelchair and I requested him to push it into the washroom. He asked how can I do that? I asked him back, how do you expect me to get in the washroom then?
  • If they had included a PwD to be a part of this process, the ramp or the washroom wouldn’t have been this bad. Being deliberate in having PwDs as part of the process, the change.

Nirmita Narasimhan

On policy and regulatory processes

  • Important to have policies - ensures that people are aware there’s a need. Mandated. Recognised by law. The fact that there’s a legal and social requirement and responsibility to comply with standards is important in ensuring that accessibility is there. Countries that have policies are better placed in terms of how accessibility is implemented.
  • A lot of countries have implemented the CRPDA - domain specific policies need to come as well. Depends on different strategies and situation.
  • Eg. In India when we had to lobby for the copyright law, we had to do a lot of research on what are the legal models available everywhere. We ran campaigns, meetings, signature campaigns etc. On the other hand, when we look at electronic accessibility, we had meetings with electronics and IT departments, and that’s how we worked with them to develop a policy. While developing the procurement standard in India, we worked with agencies, industries, academic groups etc. on what the standards should be and how they will be implemented. The idea is to get different stakeholders involved and be responsible for this.

Concluding thoughts

Padmini Ray Murray

  • The biggest challenge we struggle with is when we design/develop technologies, we try to do it at scale, which means more nuanced and individual use experiences become harder to provide. This requires a paradigmatic shift in how tech is built - creating customised products. More layered and nuanced. More individualised and personalised experiences rather than one-size-fits-all.