Towards inclusion: From challenges to possibilities

WaterAid/Jon Spaull

Fifty-five year old Rajaram from Panna in the state of Madhya Pradesh cannot walk. Two years back, in 2013, his entire life changed when he was diagnosed with bone tuberculosis. He was forced to live a life with disability.

Till about six months back, Rajaram would be carried by his son to ease himself in a field. He would dig a foot deep hole and after defecation fill that up. “I felt very filthy to do that but did not have any other option,” lamented Rajaram. During monsoons, it was even more difficult.

Life for Rajaram changed with the arrival of a disabled-friendly toilet at his home. Photo: WaterAid/Sridevi Sunderarajan
Life for Rajaram changed with the arrival of a disabled-friendly toilet at his home. Photo: WaterAid/Sridevi Sunderarajan

When WaterAid’s partner reached his village with a disabled friendly toilet design and incentive from the government, Rajaram grabbed the opportunity and is a happy man today.

Today almost 560 million Indians lack toilets and where toilets do exist, they remain inadequate for people like Rajaram with special needs, such as the disabled and elderly. More than one billion people in the world live with some form of disability, of whom nearly 200 million experience considerable difficulties in functioning.

As part of the national effort to enable everyone, everywhere to access improved sanitation and provide equal opportunities for persons with disabilities (PwDs), WaterAid India in collaboration with the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation launched The Handbook on Accessible Household Sanitation facilities for Persons with Disabilities on December 22, 2015 in New Delhi.

The Constitution of India ensures equality, freedom, justice and dignity of all individuals and implicitly mandates an inclusive society for all including the PwDs. The problem is that in spite of the enabling policies and guidelines at the national and state level, there have been challenges faced by implementers and service providers because of lack of appropriate and cost effective technology options which are PwD friendly, adequate information on inclusive toilet designs not reaching the district and block functionaries, inherent existing challenges in inter-sectoral coordination and lack of skilled organisations for grassroots implementation.

Almost 15 per cent of the world’s population is disabled. Photo: WaterAid/Jon Spaull
Almost 15 per cent of the world’s population is disabled. Photo: WaterAid/Jon Spaull

In such a context, this handbook is expected to serve as a practical guide and can be used by government functionaries, water and sanitation engineers, and representatives of Panchayati Raj Institutions, WASH sector professionals, disabled people’s organisations and disability service providers, and organisations representing or working with other socially excluded groups to provide possible sanitation solutions for PwDs. A few examples of household sanitation designs have also been presented which families can adapt to suit their needs and budgets.

Almost 15 per cent of the world’s population is disabled and without accessible toilets for these populations, they remain excluded from opportunities to attend school and gain employment. Reducing inequalities is an essential part of achieving universal access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene.

A disabled-friendly toilet at Rakhi Mandi slum in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. Photo: WaterAid/Pragya Gupta
A disabled-friendly toilet at Rakhi Mandi slum in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. Photo: WaterAid/Pragya Gupta

Poverty and social exclusion are closely linked. The poorest people are often the most socially excluded and are rarely consulted or involved in decisions about WASH policy and programmes. The situation is often made worse by discrimination, stigma and existing inequalities that occur at all levels.

This handbook is also a great example of a ‘Bottoms Up’ approach where designs used and piloted in the rural areas of Jharkhand and Odisha have been adopted at the national level. It is the end result of robust collaborations, effective partnerships and immense support from communities, individuals and families, government officials, networks, and practitioners from various sectors. As a first of its kind, the handbook will be kept dynamic with regular updates as more ideas and examples find their way in.

This handbook can be used as a starting point for discussion with households and as a way to encourage communities to consider disabled friendly design options and thereby enable them to live a life with dignity like Rajaram was fortunate enough to do.

Siddhartha Das is Manager, Policy at WaterAid India. He Tweets as @ronsid2000

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