The Internet has opened up doors of opportunities and resources that are not otherwise available. Through the Internet, I have access to online application for courses and conferences. I have access to social networks such as Face book and use of Skype. Thanks to goodness, Information, Communication and Technology( ICT) in this age of globalization has made the world a global village, yet, a big question comes up in my mind: Is Internet Access Universal? I want to say that the term ‘Universal Internet Access’ depends on the environment where one finds oneself. My first time of touching a computer and having an access to an email address was in Geneva, Switzerland. But back home to my rural village in Orlu, Imo State, Nigeria, after several years, I had to take bus and pay transport fare to access an internet café. That was necessitated by the reality of the need to be able to access opportunities and to meet up with application deadlines and more important to me, to communicate my friends. Thanks to my mother’s support! But let me confess: the experience was hell as I had to face many fronts as if I was an ECOMOG soldier fighting in Liberia! I battled security issues, devising / taking measures to protect myself from kidnappers and ritual killers whose target are disabled women; I battled power outages and poor internet services as the operators of cyber cafe always said “our server is down” every 10 minutes. Above all, I battled with time, trying to be fast and increasing my typing speed so as to be able to work within the limited resources my mother could afford, to avoid spending more than 4 hours otherwise I will be financially stranded. I spent up to three and a half hours before completing an application and in the process paid a huge amount of money as they disconnected me every now and then. All the money spent was given by my mother. I did not have my own money to spend. The worst thing was that my email was exposed to fraudsters who incessantly send me mails on fake business proposals, fake invitations, etc. On this issue, I did not have any idea on how to fight against it. In Lagos, the experience is worst. Internet café operating in the area where I live follows the trend of city life in charging for services. An hour costs between 200 and 250 Naira and to do a meaningful work, I spend 3-4 hours. Operators of cyber café told me that the rate has to be so because they buy fuel for their power generating plant since that is the only reliable source of power supply in Nigeria. I pay 1000 Naira and above at a time. The cost excludes scanning or printing as the case may be. I am a disabled woman and sometimes cannot walk long distance. So in addition I pay transport fare to cyber cafe. Sometimes, I had to walk the long distance especially when I exhaust the money on me. The long walk is even more dangerous to my health. This I did for so many years hence I decided to save to buy a PC to keep in my house as this will save my health and also enhance the disability work I do outside my officially paid job. In September 2010, I succeeded in paying for a desk top, UPS and other back-ups. I was overjoyed! I also bought an internet modem in which I recharge with not less than N5000 per month. I did not have any power generating set as I could not afford to buy one, not to think of buying fuel and oil every day plus the cost of servicing the generator. Last 2 months, the computer plus the UPS and other support systems around it got blown up as a result of power fluctuation. That was the computer I bought after denying myself of food while saving money for several months. Now I do not have any working system for my disability organization. I cannot rely on the cyber cafe around for any meaningful work because I will walk a long distance. I will pay heavily for any meaningful work at cyber safe; I may have to spend some hours for me to accomplish any meaningful work on the internet. Again, use of internet café exposes me to personal security risks. The incessant power outage and fluctuations have crippled all my effort towards achieving internet access. It has crippled my efforts and the work on empowering the disabled persons in my community. It sounds absurd but that is the reality of situation disabled women face in Nigeria. For some time now, my work on disability issues have crippled. Poverty creates a wide gap and makes it difficult for some class of persons to attain universal internet access. Some class of persons do not have access to information technology and cannot accomplish access to IT. The poorest of the poor groups in societies including persons with disabilities suffer it the most. It is said that the digital divide is wide, the gendered digital divide is wider, yet the disability gendered digital divide is widest! Who can understand my plight? Going two steps forward and ten steps backward, it is the wearer who knows where the shoe pinches!
Celine Osukwu Divine Foundation for Disabled Persons 43, Adeniyi Jones Avenue, Ikeja, Lagoshands_foundation@yahoo.com
In a time when freedom of expression and equal access to knowledge and ideas has become synonymous with access to the Internet, World Pulse is asking women worldwide: What does "Universal Internet Access and Digital Freedom" mean to YOU? This month, we invite you to raise your voice by writing about the everyday obstacles you face and risks you take in accessing the Internet, or how you have used it to change lives and bring about positive change in your community. Click here to learn more about this campaign and how to participate.