Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure that involves steps can be difficult to access for children, older people and people with disabilities. Steps and stairs also pose a problem for visually impaired people, particularly where there are no handrails.

Though guides can help people to access WASH facilities, privacy then becomes a problem. Guides must respect the privacy of users and give them space and dignity while they are accessing facilities.

The challenge

Until 2012,  visually impaired students at a school for blind people in Gardnersville, Monrovia, faced problems accessing WASH services.. Up to 100 visually impaired men and women lived in this school, using a latrine that had steep steps. Because the students were unable to use the latrine, they allowed it to be used publicly and it soon overflowed and had to be abandoned.

Breaking down barriers

WaterAid Liberia works with six partner organisations, including a youth group called United Youths for Peace, Education, Transparency and Development in Liberia (UYPETDL).

This group decided to address the problem at the school, but they not only had to find funds for the project, they needed to understand exactly what the users needed from their latrines to access them.

Usually a VIP latrine with three drop holes would suffice, but in this case, tracking paths were added to the design to guide the users to each latrine.

An innovative change

By mid-January 2013 WaterAid Liberia had successfully delivered an accessible latrine with four drop holes for blind people at in the school. The design also included two-way swinging doors, tiled toilet seats, and smooth pathways with walking guides. Additionally, the doors were wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs. The facilities were the first accessible latrines to have been built in Monrovia.

The school’s caretaker, Mrs Alberta Myers, 40, said, "With WaterAid’s intervention, problems of diarrhoea and malaria have been minimised. Our sanitation services have been improved. We all have easy access now to enter and use the latrine with no smells and faeces around."

This article is part of our WASH Matters series, regular insights into our programme and project work in Africa and South Asia. Discover more here >