Leaving no one behind

This International Day of Persons with Disabilities, meet the inspiring people leading the way towards equality and accessibility for all… via the nearest toilet.

Imagine you couldn’t go to your own kitchen sink for a glass of water or couldn’t find a private place to go to the toilet when out shopping. How would you feel? Frustrated? Embarrassed? Undignified?

For many of us, when we’re feeling thirsty we reach for the tap and when nature calls we head to the nearest loo.

But for those of us with disabilities, often things aren’t so easy. A lack of accessible taps and toilets can turn simple, necessary tasks into a daily struggle.

And in countries around the world where taps and toilets aren’t available to all, people with disabilities face an even greater challenge.

An accessible toilet in Beltola slum, Dhaka, Bangladesh. © WaterAid/ Guilhem Alandry

However, progress is being made. This International Day of Persons with Disabilities, 3 December, we’re celebrating the resourceful, determined and courageous people who are helping to transform lives by making water and sanitation services accessible to all.

Determination, creativity and optimism

Olupot is from Abibico village in north eastern Uganda. When he was four years old his mother told him he had Polio disease which left him with a physical disability.

For the vast majority of his life he struggled to use his family’s toilet — a pit latrine.

“I couldn’t squat properly over the pit’s hole and I would leave the latrine dirty,” he says. “I’m aware going to the toilet outside isn’t good, but I decided going in the bush was a better alternative.”

Olupot, Abibico village, Uganda. © WaterAid/ James Kiyimba

Olupot was unable to go to school because of his disability. However, his father was a carpenter and Olupot used to help him in his small workshop, learning how to make a living through making doors, chairs and other items for the village.

When WaterAid’s local partner, the Church of Uganda Teso Diocese Development Office (TEDDO), started working in Olupot’s village, he was invited to a meeting where he learnt about the different options to make Abibico’s facilities accessible to all people in the community.

Using his carpentry skills and working together with TEDDO’s project staff, Olupot designed his own portable toilet seat and a tippy tap for washing his hands.

“For sure this was a real eye-opener for me. As a carpenter, I started thinking about improvements I could make to my own latrine. I wanted to make a portable seat I could put on top of the pit hole, so I bought a piece of timber and used my knowledge to make one,” Olupot explains.

 “Ever since I started using it, I’ve had no problems using our family’s latrine.”

Complete piece of mind

“Life with a disability isn’t easy at all. There are many things that people with a disability like me can’t do.”

Justine lives in Dissin, Burkina Faso. She makes and sells baskets for a living, but wishes she was able to do more.

Justine next to her new accessible toilet in Dissin, Burkina Faso. © WaterAid/ Basile Ouedraogo

“There are some who are able to brew local beer to sell and those who work in trade. When you have a disability, if you don’t have the support of people with good will your life is almost impossible here.”

Justine wheels herself around the community using a tricycle, but until recently there wasn’t an accessible toilet she could use, so she had no choice but to go outside in the bush.

“For a woman it wasn’t safe to go alone,” she tells us. “At night, I didn’t dare go far because of fear of harassment, attack or even rape. This never happened to me but I knew it was possible.”

Working with WaterAid’s local partners VARENA ASSO, Justine helped to build new accessible latrines in Dissin — meaning she and other people with disabilities in her community can now go to the toilet comfortably and in private.

“Now I can relieve myself in the latrine with complete peace of mind, with privacy and without the fear of being seen by passers-by.”

‘No one is embarrassing me’

Sarah is the caretaker of a disabled-friendly latrine in Paynesville, Liberia. Both her and her husband are blind.

It was difficult for Sarah to use Paynesville’s old latrine because it was open to the entire community. Everyone used it, so it became dirty very quickly and would get flooded when it rained. At times Sarah’s children had to take her there to make sure it was safe for her to use.

Sarah is the caretaker of the new disabled-friendly toilets in Paynesville, Liberia. © WaterAid/ Ahmed Jallanzo

But with the new disabled-friendly toilet built by WaterAid’s local partners United Youth for Peace, Education, Transparency and Development in Liberia, Sarah has the chance to live with more privacy and dignity.

“I like the place because no one is embarrassing me. It was difficult for me to use the old toilet because it was open to the public,” she says.

“I am happy because I am no longer getting affected by infection and paying money for treatments. I can now save some money to do other things.”

Making school life that little bit easier

19-year-old Innocent became disabled in 2011 after a venomous snake bit his leg.

A student at Njola Basic School in Zambia, Innocent explains the current toilets leave him open to unwanted banter from his fellow students. They are too small and he feels ashamed to use them as they do not allow him any privacy.

“I don’t like leaving my crutches outside while using the toilet, because my friends can see them and even tell how long I have taken in the toilet,” he says.

Innocent next to the under-construction accessible toilets at Njola Basic School, Zambia. © WaterAid/ Chileshe Chanda

But now WaterAid is working with our local partners ROCs to build toilets fitted with a ramp to improve access for people with disabilities, especially those on wheelchairs.

“Five years ago I never thought I would be disabled, so it’s nice to have toilet and water facilities that include features that support needs for people with disabilities.”

Made of the same stuff

Taps and toilets should be available to all — full stop.

That’s why we’re working with partners around the world to break down barriers and make sure facilities are accessible to everyone.

For the first time in history, more than 6 in 10 people now have a decent toilet and 9 out of 10 people around the world have clean, safe water to drink.

There’s still a lot more to do, but despite the huge challenge we’ve already made so much progress together — making sure we’re leaving no one behind by working with people with disabilities. And we’re closer to reaching everyone everywhere with taps and toilets than you might think.

Help make history>

More on our work on equality and non-discrimination

Dan Jones, WaterAid’s Advocacy Coordinator, and Jane Wilbur, our Equality, Inclusion and Rights Advisor, reflect on why it’s time to clear the path for people with disabilities >

Tackling and challenging inequalities on International Day of Persons with Disabilities >