Making sanitation and water accessible to people with disabilities in Uganda

by James Kiyimba, WaterAid Uganda

Pascal Emalu is an old man and resident of Agwajua village, Aweelu parish, Morungatuny Sub County of Amuria district which is over 330 km North East of Kampala. He remembers when young, he was very swift and energetic, doing all his household chores with ease. At 63 years now, he finds problems in doing all what he used to do in his youth full stage.

Ijan Janet Norah (old lady) demonstrating to Hazel Johns (WEDC) the challenges she goes through to use a pit latrine Photo: WaterAid / James Kiyimba

“Way back, I could not think of old age as a kind of disability. Now I am vulnerable, I face lots of challenges in squatting to use a latrine,” Pascal says.

He adds: “Today, I am old and I have become disabled, day by day, I am becoming weaker to pump the bore hole to fill a 20 litre jerry can. Even Apio Alice my wife who is now 60, can no longer do all what she used to do when young, she has become weak, she can only carry a five litre container from the borehole which is about one kilometre away. Often times she gets pain around the hip bone and she has become weaker and weaker as she gets older.”

In the same village is Oker Bosco 18 who appears to be less than 10 years because of his physical and mental disability. He is suffering from epilepsy– the main cause of both his physical and mental disabilities.

Angom Betty, the mother says: “due to multiple disabilities Bosco can neither talk, walk nor squat on a latrine. When he wants to defecate he lies on his side and makes noise to alert any one around. After defecation I collect the faeces and take them to the latrine, if I don’t do that, he soils himself and all the beddings. My life and his would be better if we had a solution.”

The above are just some of the different categories of people with disabilities who must be catered for when planning for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) service delivery by breaking barriers that may hinder them access.

Understanding barriers to inclusion

To understand barriers faced by persons with disabilities, in July 2012, Hazel Jones from WEDC and WaterAid in Uganda, organised a series of meetings in Amuria and Katakwi districts involving community members, implementing partner NGOs of Church of Uganda Teso Dioceses’ Development Office (COU-TEDDO), Wera Development Agency (WEDA) and officials from Amuria and Katakwi District Local Governments.

There after a national level meeting attended by representatives from the line Ministries of Water and Environment, Education and Sports, Health, Members of Parliament and a number of civil society organisation was held to discuss the barriers as well as identifying solutions to the challenges that hinder persons with disability from accessing WASH services.

Barriers identified

Information is power- disabled people need information about the different design options available Photo: WaterAid

Key barriers identified include those that exist in the natural environment, like walking long distances, rough terrain and uneven slopes to reach water sources and sanitation facilities. Other barriers identified related to physical infrastructure challenges including steps to reach WASH service points, slippery floor surfaces and narrow path or doorways among others.

For example, majority of the sanitation facilities in primary schools in Uganda can hardly be reached by children using wheelchairs. They either face challenges with opening the doors especially if it opens from out. And also if the door opens from inside, closing it when the wheel chair is inside it is also not easy.

In some instances, door locks are often too high to reach or there is limited space inside the latrine which restricts movement of the wheel chair. Disabled people who crawl in most cases find the latrine floors too wet and dirty.

Socially, there are a number of taboos and misinformation associated with disability. These range from prejudice, pity or stigma from other members of the community. Some people think sharing water sources with disabled people is not a good idea because they are assumed to be dirty.

Where disability is associated with witchcraft or curses, disabled people may be prevented from sharing communal facilities for fear that they will “contaminate” the water, or make the facility “dirty” for other users.

Policy perspective:

Although Uganda is among the few African countries that have taken affirmative action in favour of marginalised groups. These efforts have not resulted into lasting solutions to enable the persons with disabilities to have improved access to WASH. Majority of the laws and policies promoting equality, inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in society have remained on paper and not enforced.

Information is power- disabled people need information about the different design options available

The solutions

Judging from the different meetings held, it is evident that addressing barriers that hinder persons with disability from accessing water and sanitation services must start with massive awareness creation in order to address the problem of misinformation and attitudinal issues that surround disabled people.

Most of the injustices, marginalisation or exclusion of the disabled is due to miss information. Giving the general public the right information relating to policies and rights of people with disabilities enables society members to have a positive attitude towards the vulnerable categories of people in society.

To address the infrastructural barriers there is need to develop appropriate inclusive designs as well as involving the affected categories of people in WASH facility designing or technology options choices. Some times when people talk about inclusive designs, they get an impression that disabled or vulnerable people need separate, ‘special’ facilities of their own. Ramps, adjustable support rails and movable sitting blocks are some of the examples of some of the improvements can be done on already existing facilities.

Information is power: There is need for government and other development partners to provide information on accessibility to all people in the community. The disabled, often times don’t know what is possible. But, when given simple ideas, they start to think about what is suitable for them thereby coming up with their own solutions.

This however, should go hand in hand with developing an effective communication strategy to reach the different audiences with the right information. The technical manuals and guidelines should as well be simplified and popularized into user friendly public documents.

The legal framework in Uganda

In September 2008, Uganda ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, then the Equal Opportunities Commission Act (2008) while in 2006, the Parliament of Uganda adopted the Persons with Disability Act, the National Council for Disability Act (2003) and the National Policy on Disability in Uganda (2006) was developed by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development.

All these efforts need to be translated into practical actions to ensure WASH access to all since this is a fundamental human right regardless of how healthy or mobile a person is.

WaterAid in Uganda will continue to tackle and advocate for the provision of clean water and effective sanitation for disabled people and other vulnerable groups in the country, to ensure that people like Pascal, Alice and Bosco can have access to the clean, safe water, sanitation and hygiene education that they so deserve.

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