El Enlace – SMS as a tool to reduce the exclusion of people with disability and their caregivers in Colombia

Participants: Universidad del Rosario’s Social Action Institute (SERES), University of Alberta’s Faculty of Rehabilitation and the community of El Codito (Bogota, Colombia)

August 2011 – May 2013

El Enlace was a community-based research project lead by Tim Barlott (MARS Lab Research Associate) as the basis for his MSc thesis research under the supervision of Dr. Kim Adams at the University of Alberta. This project relied heavily on a collaborative partnership between the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Rehabilitation, Universidad del Rosario’s Social Action Institute (SERES) and the Bogota community of El Codito.

Chronic violence and unrest plagued Colombia throughout the latter half of the 20th century, particularly in the rural areas. Many Colombians who were displaced from their homes by violence or socio-economic factors settled in the mountainside on the perimeter of the capital city, Bogota (Blanco, 2012). These communities are characterized by low socio-economic status, limited access to municipal services such as electricity and sewage, and high crime rates. Citizens in these communities, including a high proportion of people with disabilities (PWD), also experience a lack of access to fundamental health services, health information and are socially isolated. For a 3-month period, this community-based research project used SMS, on basic mobile phones, as a tool for information sharing and social interaction with 8 caregivers of PWD in El Codito.

Using primarily qualitative methods, the research explored: 1) the experience of caregivers in the project, 2) the opinions and use of mobile phones and 3) sustainability considerations and constraints. Caregivers experienced the project as a window to possibility; the possibility of a social support network, the possibility of community participation and the possibility of change. Mobile phones, an available technology in El Codito and other under-resourced communities, can be a useful tool for reducing the exclusion of PWD and caregivers. 

Despite the conclusion of the formal research component, the participants in this project, along with SERES, have formed another participatory group for PWD and caregivers. This group has continued to use SMS as a tool for information sharing.

See here for details of this thesis research.