Since WaterAid’s mission is to reach marginalised and vulnerable people, equity and inclusion cuts across all of our work. However, a recent training session for WaterAid staff on equity and inclusion raised some important points for consideration.It became clear that if we are to make WASH facilities accessible to all members of society, including those with disabilities such as wheelchair users or visually impaired people, significant adaptations will need to be considered. Adaptations could include providing aids and equipment, modifying existing latrines and designing and constructing accessible, usable, safe, hygienic and affordable latrines which respect privacy and dignity, using inclusive, appropriate and low-cost design and technologies.
To give an example of equity and inclusion in action, an accessibility audit of sanitation facilities at a school was carried out as part of the training, revealing some shocking results. When auditing the boys latrines, it became evident that none of the 16 squatting pan latrines are inclusive. There was a lack of a clear path to reach the toilet block, no guide rail or landmark to help visually impaired people follow the path and uneven steps in between paths causing potential difficulties to wheelchair users. In addition, the toilet entrances were narrow, with all the doors opening inwards, insufficient light inside the toilets, and nothing to hold onto while squatting. There was also no water inside any of the latrines and no water points nearby. The hand washing stations that were installed earlier outside the toilets are also now fully damaged with none of them currently functional.
To make the facilities more inclusive, two key changes were suggested to the school, the first being the construction of an accessible new toilet close to the classroom blocks with one cubical for boys and one for girls. The second: to modify the existing toilets, making at least one of the cubicles accessible and ensuring all toilets are kept clean and hygienic with water and soap provided for hand washing. This will improve the situation at this school but this is obviously just one school.
To ensure we are working to target all marginalised and vulnerable people in our work, we clearly need to embed equity and inclusion indicators into all of our data collection tools and systems and into all of our programmes and plans. While our Nepal ‘country paper’ already includes several equity and inclusion related components, there is still great potential in terms of the impact we can make. We could, for example, work with the government to develop a technical standard for inclusive sanitation, or even run a job fair specifically targeting those with disabilities.
Shared learning and collaborative working in the area of equity and inclusion will also be key, to allow us to make a more powerful impact both at a practical and policy level. World Vision Ethiopia, who also attended the training, have been working on incorporating disability issues into their health, education, agriculture, water and sanitation programmes for the past three years. Since both organisations work within the WASH sector, there is potential for us to work collectively on accessibility issues within WASH, developing, for example, a minimum standard for inclusiveness within WASH projects.
I am optimistic about the impact that WaterAid can have in this area but would obviously be interested to hear any feedback and comments from our readers on these issues.
Written by Om Prasad Gautam, Social Development Advisor, WaterAid in Nepal