More than 1 billion people have some form of disability. The U.N.’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (December 3) has always been a good time to reflect on the challenges so many of us face. But new communication technologies empower activists to raise their communities’ profiles all year long.

Joanne O'Riordan, from Cork, Ireland, attends the U.N.'s International Telecommunication Union conference. She is one of one of only seven people in the world with Total Amelia, a congenital birth condition causing the absence of all four limbs.
Irish teenager Joanne O’Riordan at the U.N.’s International Telecommunication Union conference. She is one of seven people in the world born without any limbs. (© AP Images)

“With social media it has become easier for people to lead outside of established roles,” said Andrew Phillips, policy counsel for the U.S. National Association of the Deaf. “Today, they can easily tweet, post on Facebook and write blogs.”

Social media can be especially empowering for persons with disabilities. When a few keystrokes can reach millions, limited mobility or a need to communicate nonverbally is no obstacle to exchanging ideas and information, even with colleagues continents away.

“Disability can be very alienating,” said Ki’tay Davidson, a disability activist honored by the White House as a Champion of Change for social good. “But being able to see what other countries and people are doing builds pride. It shows what’s possible.”

Technology also empowers more people to act as leaders. “Leaders don’t have to have special qualifications,” Davidson adds. “It’s everyday people that get things done. You have to believe you are your own revolution. Other people will always get behind you when you’re doing the right thing.”

Through programs and institutions like the Fulbright Program and Gallaudet University, the U.S. provides opportunities for young people with disabilities to develop leadership skills and advocate for others.