The United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognised access to safe drinking water and sanitation as a human right, and acknowledged the essential nature of water and sanitation to the realisation of all human rights in 2010. However in many contexts persons with disabilities are excluded from accessing water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services for reasons including poor or distant placement of WASH infrastructure, inaccessible toilets and water supplies, exclusion from community hygiene awareness and general WASH planning processes, and stigma and discrimination.
Persons with disabilities may have greater water requirements than some other community members – for instance, if they use their hands for mobility or for balance while going to the toilet, they will have increased washing needs. It is vital that their needs are specifically considered in all aspects of WASH programming.
Inclusion of persons with disabilities in WASH programs typically requires only minor modifications, and when built into program design represents minimal additional cost. Improved accessibility of WASH infrastructure also benefits other members of the community, such as children, frail older people, pregnant women, and people who are ill or temporarily injured.
When persons with disabilities are included in WASH programs they may experience greater dignity and self-reliance, improvements in health and nutrition, and greater access to education if school WASH facilities are accessible. WASH-related caregiving duties that are usually borne by women and girls, such as fetching water, may be reduced for family members of persons with disabilities. Inclusion in WASH community processes and provision may also increase the visibility and self confidence of persons with disabilities, and enhance their inclusion and participation in other aspects of community life.
The available resources are mainly designed for WASH practitioners. Many focus on accessible infrastructure, and are useful for this aspect of WASH. However, it is also necessary to consider inclusion throughout the whole program management cycle, and to ensure community education and decision-making processes are also inclusive.
See also: Accessible infrastructure and communications