Water and toilets for all? Global inclusion for people with disabilities is key

Posted On: 
23rd July 2018

The UK is well-placed to galvanise global progress, ensuring that disability inclusion is throughout all development as the norm, not the exception to the rule, says Tim Wainwright, Chief Executive of WaterAid UK.

Mary, 18, living in Malawi says: “We no longer worry about catching diseases such as diarrhoea whenever we visit the toilet as they are clean now. Personally I am happy to have dignity in my life. My siblings now wear clean clothes. Our way of life has changed for the better, thanks to the gift of water.”
Credit: 
WaterAid/Dennis Lupenga

Tomorrow, the UK Government will co-host a global summit on disability. As International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt declared to the Commons, using sign language, earlier this month: “For too long, in the world’s poorest countries, disabled people have not been able to reach their full potential because of stigma or not enough practical support.”

How right she is. People with disabilities are the world's largest minority. The proportion of the population with disabilities is rising, and now represents 1 billion people. Of those, 80% live in developing countries, where people with disabilities are less likely than others to have access to water, sanitation, education and employment, leading to poor health outcomes and a higher risk of living in poverty.

Poverty and social exclusion are fundamentally linked. Many people with disabilities face a challenging combination of physical, social, economic and institutional barriers to basic services which are made worse when combined with poverty. They are often among the one in nine people in the world who lack access to clean water and the one in three currently living without decent toilets. Exclusion, because of disability, can be exacerbated by other factors for example being female, poor or living in remote areas.

People with disabilities are rarely consulted or involved in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) policy and programmes. Without their participation in finding and working towards solutions that meet their needs, people with impairments remain excluded from the benefits and denied their rights.

At WaterAid, we put equality and inclusion at the core of our work, with comprehensive programmes and continued learning. We will sign up to the summit’s Charter for Change, to demonstrate our constant commitment to this.

Breaking down generations of stigma and rejection takes time and persistence. It will also take time and persistence across the sector to develop the skills required to meet the needs of people with disabilities, ensuring they are always consulted, understood and included in water, sanitation and hygiene programmes, as a matter of course.

WaterAid and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) are currently collaborating on research to deepen our understanding about how to address some of these invisible barriers. The research has helped uncover the complex and stigmatised issues around menstrual hygiene management for women and girls with intellectual impairments in Nepal.  Based on the findings, we are piloting new disability-inclusive hygiene promotion packages.  If they prove to be more user-friendly for both participants and their carers, we’ll build on this success throughout our country programmes.

We know that having access to water for drinking and washing, a decent toilet and good hygiene transforms the everyday lives of people with disabilities and the people who support them. We need to ensure that these people are listened to and included, and that they’re involved in the changes made.

When schools have accessible WASH services, children with disabilities are more likely to enjoy an education. When workplaces have accessible WASH, people with disabilities are more likely to explore economic opportunities, lifting themselves out of poverty. If public toilets are accessible, then people with disabilities can travel more freely, visit leisure activities, markets, and transport hubs.

Tomorrow’s Global Disability Summit seeks to incentivise global progress on disability. We are calling on the UK Government to prioritise accessible and inclusive water, sanitation and hygiene programmes – known collectively as WASH. Specifically, we want WASH services to be integrated into all disability programmes, strategies and budgets, and disability inclusion to be integrated into all WASH programmes, strategies and budgets.

For example, the UK Government and all implementing partners should ensure that all programmes are disability-inclusive and that all WASH facilities are safe and accessible. Opportunities in WASH programmes should be maximised, to increase the participation, voice and involvement of people with disabilities in decisions that affect them and their own communities.

After the summit, DFID will update its disability framework. Let’s hope that the vital importance of water, sanitation and hygiene features prominently. The UK is well-placed to galvanise global progress, ensuring that disability inclusion is throughout all development as the norm, not the exception to the rule.

The Global Disability Summit will take place in London on Tuesday 24 July, jointly organised by the UK and Kenyan Governments, together with the International Disability Alliance. #DisabilitySummit  #NowIsTheTime