The ability of small changes

Story type
Case story
toilet, rural, village
Image: WaterAid India

Toilet construction and its accessibility are two sides of the same coin. On one hand, construction of toilets is an emerging need in rural as well as urban areas, while on the other, making them inclusive and disabled friendly is a key concern. Considering the need to make this a reality, communities in Jharkhand and Odisha are setting new benchmarks. Their small initiatives to voice their problems are now resulting in bigger and positive impacts. Here’s how simple modifications have helped them customise household toilets with an inclusive and accessible lens.

There are people who get toilets made and then there are people who get inclusive and accessible toilets made. What’s the difference? Well, let’s start by visualising a life where one decides to drink less water or even eat less food just to avoid using a toilet. Why? Because each trip to the toilet in order to access and use it is a painstaking uphill task, not just compromising on comfort but often on dignity as well.

Regrettably, there are millions of people in the country with physical, locomotive or motor disabilities along with the elderly and those with specific medical conditions for whom accessing a toilet every day is a continuous battle. And while building inclusive and accessible toilets is the need of the hour, it doesn’t feature on the priority list when toilets are being constructed.

But then there are always exceptions like Dumka and Pakur districts of Jharkhand and Deogarh district in Odisha that decided to not just make their respective villages open defecation free but also took an extra step to ensure that while constructing toilets for individual households, care was taken to customise toilet designs for residents like Kedar Sethi with polio, visually impaired Kalicharan, young Sunakar with a physical disability or even Munni in her old age.

It all started with a baseline assessment, in order to understand the status of household toilets, and the outcomes were shared at the Gram Panchayat level. In order to make this possible, village committees and volunteer groups emerged with enthusiasm and spearheaded the process.

With regular meetings and workshops on basic awareness, these communities realised the urgent need for accessible toilets, as a majority of the villagers were not able to access the toilets in their houses due to certain disabilities or health conditions. They concluded that special design considerations and retrofitting with distinct features and fixtures were the core of making the toilets accessible.

Soon, the village committee members and volunteers became capable of identifying critical disability factors amongst the fellow villagers as well as those with multiple disabilities.

Interestingly, during the identification process, the people with disabilities formed their own small groups in their respective Gram Panchayats, as well as at the block level. They also became a part of the existing district disability forum, to help expedite the process of construction of inclusive toilets.

WaterAid and its partners conducted capacity building sessions of the emerging groups and committees, and further oriented them on the design criteria of disability-inclusive water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities. They also conducted several door-to-door visits and met with each family to understand the problems they face and the kind of modifications they feel are beneficial.

A team of experts, led by WaterAid and its partners, suggested the most appropriate disability inclusive design options, utilising easily available materials for construction. This technical feasibility assessment justified the recommendations made to create toilets accessible for everyone.

Also, the people with disabilities and other local volunteers were further trained on the technical parameters of creating universal toilet designs based on the government of India guidelines, schemes and programmes. They also enlisted suggestions for disability-inclusive designs that can be made available.

The disability forum conducted a series of consultations, and subsequently, requested priority consideration to start the construction. Each individual submitted a demand application for construction of the toilet with special designs.

With such dedicated efforts, the government finally sanctioned the appeal. The villagers constructed toilets as per their respective requirements, making toilets accessible to everyone, everywhere!