Ensuring a life of dignity for disabled

Ensuring a life of dignity for disabled

In 2002, the CBR Network conducted a study for the National Commission of Women, Government of India on the impact of disability on women in rural areas. The study revealed how access to toilet facilities is the key factor for a woman with disability to lead a life with dignity and respect.

At a conference held in 2010 on water and sanitation, many designs of low cost toilets for rural areas were shared; but none of them had taken into account the needs of persons with disabilities, senior citizens, or pregnant women while designing the toilets.
Including persons with disabilities in the planning, design, and implementation of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) interventions and involving them in community water and sanitation-related decisions can be an empowering experience.

Access to appropriate and, most importantly, gender-sensitive WASH facilities would have a significant positive impact on both the daily lives and long-term prospects of millions of persons with disabilities that are currently living without them. Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) advocates strongly for incorporating disability/gender and inclusive strategies into WASH programmes. Although Sulabh Sauchalaya is a laudable initiative it is not easy for people with disability to even reach them, let alone use them comfortably.

The term “universal design” was coined by the architect Ronald L Mace to describe the concept of designing all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability or status. However, it was Selwyn Goldsmith, author of Designing for the Disabled (1963), who pioneered the concept of free access for disabled. His most significant achievement was the creation of the dropped curb – now a standard feature of the built environment.

Universal design
Universal design emerged from earlier barrier-free concepts, the broader accessibility movement, and adaptive and assistive technology and also sought to blend aesthetics into these core considerations. As life expectancy rises and modern medicine increases the survival rate of those with significant injuries, illnesses, and birth defects, there is a growing interest in universal design.

We need to plan sanitation programmes with universal accessible design to include persons with disabilities, senior citizens and other persons with special needs that arise due to sensory, motor and other impairments.This needs a rights-based approach which enables and empowers persons with disabilities to express their needs and also participate actively in building sanitation facilities.

For this it is necessary to utilise the existing knowledge, build new knowledge relevant to the socio-cultural-economic conditions prevalent in India, research and validate new designs and approaches and promote evidence based documentation for scaling up sanitation with universal accessible standards. The following recommendations are becoming more common in public toilet facilities, as part of a trend towards universal design:
a) Toilet (with handles), sink and hand dryer of wheelchair-height; wide doors for easy access; b) Emergency alarm

Real-life stories about girls with disability discontinuing studies due to lack of toilets in schools are legion. Priya (name changed) met with an accident at the age of 13 and her spine was damaged. She stopped going to school as it was too far to walk and there was no toilet.

She completed her class 12 through the National Open School; but even to attend the contact classes was a challenge as her father had to carry her till the classroom (sometimes on the third floor). She quit studying to find a job and contribute to the family – but that never happened.

In rural areas, some children with disabilities are told to stay at home as they cannot be given individual attention, taken to the toilet etc. A partially paralysed woman said that the young men who carry her to the fields for her ablutions abuse her. “How can I refuse them, they help me everyday,” she asked.

UNICEF has already pioneered the concept of using low-cost construction materials to build toilets under the Total Sanitation Campaign programme (TSC). The cost of each toilet is just about Rs 3,500 including all materials. But when compressed earth bricks (CEBs) are used to construct toilets, the cost of each will reduce to Rs 2,200. A lot is being done, but there is scope for a lot more. We cannot expect the government to resolve all our problems. It has to be an inclusive, community based approach.

(Prahladrao is trustee/coordinator and Rao is Regional Advisor for CBR Network, South Asia)

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