Nepal WASH Blog Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) & Development in Nepal

April 29, 2013

Targeting attitudinal and institutional barriers

Not too long ago, high steps, narrow doors and other physical obstacles were considered to be the only barriers for people with disabilities to access water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities. Service providers set about creating accessible WASH facilities focused on removing these barriers. They began to build toilets and water taps that were easy to reach, installed ramps for wheelchair users and widened toilet doors. These actions have certainly helped to make facilities more accessible for people with disabilities, but alone they have not proved to be sustainable solutions for inclusion.

Many people with disabilities are denied their right to WASH due to a different kind of barrier – attitudes. Attitudinal barriers relate to people’s perspectives towards disability; for example, people with disabilities are often viewed as ‘sick’ or ‘needy’, and providing WASH facilities for them is seen as an act of charity rather than an essential part of every programme. These barriers are due to cultural and social beliefs or taboos that have been present in society for many years.

Similarly, there are institutional or organisational barriers, resulting from the perspectives of organisations or government bodies. These barriers include a lack of policies and laws that consider the accessibility needs of people with disabilities in every WASH programme; for example, there are no clear laws that say every public toilet must be accessible to wheelchair users.

These two types of barriers – attitudinal and institutional – are not clearly identifiable; they are embedded in the mindset of the community and decision-makers. Changing attitudes is not as easy as widening doors. Community-level awareness-raising programmes are needed; for example, using street dramas or cultural performances.  Information on accessibility must be made available in formats suitable for everyone, including those who can’t read, using pictures and films. Community or religious leaders can be engaged to spread positive messages. At the same time, higher-level advocacy – often by a committee of people with disabilities – is needed to put pressure on central and local governments to include accessibility in their WASH programmes and guidelines.

For every new WASH project within a community, the service provider has a duty to make the project site accessible, rather than leaving it to the community to consider its accessibility requirements. Overcoming attitudinal and institutional/organisational barriers is difficult, and can take years, but it is essential if people with disabilities are to realise their basic human rights.

The post is written by Mr Sagar Prasai – sagarDOTprasain@gmailDOTcom

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