Accessible toilets remain a distant dream for India's disabled community
For Nisha Gupta, who plays wheelchair basketball for Maharashtra state, the thought of traveling out of town by train is always a difficult prospect. The lack of accessible public toilets means she has to go without drinking water. One such trip to Chennai for a selection meet led to her falling ill.
"Whenever I travel, I struggle because there are such few accessible public toilets. Most of them do not have ramps and even those that claim to be accessible, are often locked up. This is always a problem on Indian Railways and when we go for inter-state events, we often choose to go without drinking water to avoid using the loo. Earlier this year, I was traveling to Chennai for a selection meet and I went without water for 24 hours. I fell very ill and ended up missing the meet," recalls Gupta.
Jasmina Khanna, a working professional in Mumbai, who leads a busy day, says the lack of access means wheelchair users like her have to think many times before venturing out. "Before any wheelchair user ventures out, he/she has to plan out the nature's call well in advance or wear diapers while they are travelling or go to work. Planning and wearing a diaper may not be a good option in a regular basis thus restricting the movement of wheelchair users."
The lack of adequate toilets across India is one that has been under much focus thanks to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan mission. The impact of this, especially girls, in fundamental ways has been well documented. However, when it comes to people with disabilities, this lack becomes even more critical. A situation that starts from the home itself, points out, Mahesh Chandrashekhar, Senior Manager - Programmes, Aziz Premji Philanthropic Initiatives.
Most homes have Indian types of toilets which is not convenient, so the design of the toilets, like using commode chairs, etc, is not thought about in our own homes. Even entering the washroom becomes hard for people using wheelchairs or with multiple disabilities as the entry door is very narrow. What this does is prevent people with disabilities from leading a life independently, and the burden of care-giving falls fully on the mother. That is the biggest lack as I see it. -Mahesh Chandrashekhar, Senior Manager, Programmes, Aziz Premji Philanthropic Initiatives
The larger issue is that planners and service providers fail to consult people with disabilities at all stages of project cycle by design, which renders the vision of Swachh Bharat Mission 'to make India clean and free from open defecation by 2019' meaningless.
"What are people with disabilities supposed to do? Fast and not eat?" asks Dr Ketna Mehta, Founder, Nina Foundation, an organization that aims to empower people with spinal cord injuries.
"People with disabilities on crutches and wheelchairs are unable to visit the common community toilets in slums as there are steps with narrow doors and Indian style toilets. Impossible! People with disabilities are still NOT aware of commode chairs and they are also not affordable by the poor. This is the most basic everyday routine for each human being. Disabled or otherwise," points out Dr Mehta.
According to the United Nations, an estimated one billion individuals, that's roughly 15% of the world's population are people with disabilities. One of the Millennium Development Goals is to halve the proportion of the population without access to clean water and basic sanitation by 2015. Unless this is done in consultation with the disabled community, this will remain a distant vision.