Dunnies and disability

WaterAid Australia’s Equity and Inclusion Rights Advisor Chelsea Huggett tells us why inclusion of people with disabilities in global sanitation efforts matters.


3 Dec 2015 | AU

Today is International Day for People with Disability, a day that is all about supporting the dignity, rights and well-being of people with disabilities globally. So why am I writing about toilets? Because having access to a clean, safe and private toilet cuts right to the heart of dignity, rights and well-being. Toilets, believe it or not, are a basic human right. 

Over one billion people globally have no choice but to defecate in the open and evidence shows that it is often the lowest wealth quintiles who have the lowest access to toilets. Globally people with disabilities are likely to be among the poorest, with one in five people in developing countries having a disability. Women with disabilities face even greater risks to personal safety and managing menstruation with dignity because of additional challenges to accessing private and safe loos. Unless we design accessible toilets and unless we support governments and communities to deliver inclusive sanitation programs, people with disabilities will not have their rights fulfilled. 

Earlier this year WaterAid, in partnership with the National Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO) in Papua New Guinea undertook a situational analysis to understand the sanitation challenges people with disabilities experience. One woman with a disability in East Sepik Province said “…we still have to go use the same toilet far away and sometimes accidently pee or defecate on ourselves on the way to the toilet…We need toilets to be located nearby to make it easier for us”.

The 2015 theme for International Day of People with Disability is: “Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities”. Here at WaterAid, we couldn’t agree more. WaterAid’s vision is for a world where everyone, everywhere has safe water, sanitation and hygiene by 2030. If we are to achieve this ambitious goal, then damn straight inclusion matters. And it can help reduce inequality along the way.

In Timor-Leste, WaterAid is partnering with the National DPO (Raes Hadomi Timor-Leste) to improve participation of people with disabilities from the outset of sanitation projects. “Joining WaterAid to do the Community Action Planning has been a success because the community understands that all people need support to access WASH” said an RHTO representative in Manufahi District.

I’ll admit that earlier this year I did a wee happy dance in Parliament House when I saw that access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) features as one of five key opportunities in the Australian Government’s Disability-Inclusive Development Strategy (2015-2020) for Australia’s Aid Program.

Then of course there is Sustainable Development Goal 6 is to ensure access to water and sanitation for all. Goal 6 is about equitable access to water and sanitation and leaving no one behind.

So this International Day of People with Disability, I’m talking dunnies, and disability inclusion matters in sanitation. It is about rights, dignity and well-being for people of all abilities.

Chelsea Huggett, WaterAid Australia Equity and Inclusion Rights Advisor