Disabled People in Developing Countries Have Equal Rights to Safe Water and Accessible Toilets

02/12/2011 22:03 GMT | Updated 01/02/2012 10:12 GMT

"The toilet at the school is not clean. I get out of my wheelchair and then go on my hands. When I see dirt in the toilet I don't use it. It's very painful not to go to the toilet." Community member, Butajira town, Ethiopia

The UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities, today, aims to bring attention to the dignity, rights and well-being of disabled people, and access to water, improved hygiene and sanitation is vital to achieving this.

Disabled people represent the largest socially excluded group across the world. In many cases, they live without access to basic toilets, thus exacerbating poverty and lack of dignity. Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) published the world's first report on disability, showing that over a billion people - 15% of the world's population - are disabled. However, disabled people have historically been excluded from development work and research.

Disability is less about health and far more about social and economic barriers to inclusion. Poor sanitation, unsafe water, a lack of access to healthcare and malnutrition can all lead to disabling conditions. For this reason, the WHO report puts safe water and sanitation at the centre of helping to prevent disability and poverty.

WaterAid is committed to ensuring access for all and breaking down the barriers that face disabled people.

Accessible toilets enable disabled people to be independent and lead healthier more dignified lives. Simple adaptations can make a world of difference allowing a disabled person to use a latrine rather than needing to defecate in the open. An end to poor health and to debilitating diarrhoea.

Handrails next to a toilet seat mean not only disabled people benefit but also older people, sick people, children and pregnant women.

WaterAid has conducted research to better understand the impact of lack of access to safe water and sanitation on disabled people and the barriers disabled people face. Together with our partner organisations, we have constructed accessible water and sanitation facilities which have been audited by disabled people who use them.

Hari Bahadur Sapkota in Nepal has been married three times but his wives left him because they felt he was unclean as he had to crawl to and touch the toilet. Now, with his accessible toilet, Mr Sapkota does not need to touch the toilet and can sit more comfortably. People no longer think he is dirty and his family entrusts him to cook meals so they have more time to earn an income.

Ramata Coulibaly, from Tienfala in Mali, relies on a wheelchair since having polio as a child. WaterAid helped her with an accessible toilet, which she says not only makes going to the toilet easier and more hygienic, but has also improved her image in society.

In Mali, we have also developed low cost adaptations for traditional African toilets. These wooden toilet seats are placed over the hole in the ground and the PVC tubes direct waste into the toilet. Raised bricks next to the hole allow visually impaired people to accurately guide the seat over the hole. The wood is lightweight and durable for ease of cleaning.

WaterAid is working to ensure disabled people are included in national governments' water and sanitation sector policy monitoring so that their inclusion is taken seriously. We are also developing partnerships with organisations of disabled persons to jointly identify key gaps in policy and practice.

WaterAid will continue to strive towards ensuring that disabled people are active participants in our work and that they have access to water, toilets and hygiene education regardless of their age, gender or ethnicity. We know that safe water and improved hygiene and health transforms lives and can help disabled people take a vital step out of poverty.