People with disabilities, and those that care for them, often have a greater need for WASH facilities and services and may also have different WASH requirements to people without disabilities. Below we summarise some key insights from research on disability and WASH:

  • WASH access is considered to be one of the biggest challenges of daily life for many people with disabilities.
  • People with disabilities face a diverse range of barriers to access. These include physical barriers and environmental factors such as uneven terrain or muddy ground, as well as barriers associated with built infrastructure, such as steps or inappropriate pump handles. Institutional barriers include policies and institutions within the WASH sector that overlook the needs of people with disabilities or prevent their participation in the design and delivery of WASH programmes. Lastly, social barriers arise through interaction with other people and result from cultural beliefs or practices. Social barriers may include beliefs that disability is due to a curse or is contagious and that consequently that people with disabilities should be kept away from WASH facilities.
  • The barriers people with disabilities face when accessing WASH typically vary by individual, socio-demographic factors and context.
  • Improving WASH access for people with disabilities is challenging to do at scale. It is likely to require meaningful consultation with people with disabilities on infrastructure, the sharing of a range of inclusive WASH technologies, providing support to people with disabilities (financial, social and in terms of labor) and thorough training of staff on inclusive programming.
  • The barriers that people with disabilities face when accessing WASH facilities and services are often more pronounced in crises given the changes that crises cause to the physical and social environment. During emergencies people with disabilities are more likely to be marginalised by WASH programmes.
  • The International Centre for Evidence in Disability’s research in Vanuatu showed that people with disabilities were two times more likely to experience incontinence than people without disabilities. Incontinence is a complex social and medical issue, and people who experience it and their carers need to use more water and soap for washing hands, bathing and doing the laundry, as well as easy access to a toilet. Without it, the health and dignity of people who experience incontinence and their carers is compromised. The Sphere Standards, a set of standards for humanitarian response, now include incontinence.
  • Data from 34 countries shows that households that include a person with a disability typically have less access to WASH. Even if households with a person with a disability have access to WASH facilities the individual with a disability typically has reduced access in comparison to other family members and had greater challenges in accessing facilities services autonomously, consistently, hygienically, with dignity and privacy, and without pain or fear of abuse.

Want to know more about considering disability in COVID-19 hygiene programmes:

Editor notes:

Written by: Jane Wilbur

Reviewed by: Hannah Kuper, Islay Mactaggart, Sian White, Chelsea Huggett

Last updated: 25.5.2020

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