Lack of accessible toilets in India makes public places a nightmare for disabled women
36-year-old Sunitha Thrippanikkara, a well-known foot and mouth artist from Kerala has won a name for herself, in India and abroad. She has been using a wheelchair from the time she was affected with polio as a child.
Sunita prides herself on leading an independent life, yet every time she has to go outdoors, she has to plan well ahead. Reason? The lack of accessible toilets in public places. Many disabled people in India face this issue, especially women.
Many women with disabilities say they drink limited amount of water when they step outdoors. This can be hard in the summer season. Often they opt for adult diapers.
Travelling to places, especially long train journeys, are something that I want to avoid. In the coach for disabled people, only one person is allowed along with the disabled person. I need at least two people to help me. If I use the other coach, then there are no accessible toilets. So, if it is a long train journey, then I have to suffer a lot. I refrain from drinking water or even going to toilets during journeys to the extent I can. - Sunitha Thrippanikkara, Artist
Many studies show that the lack of accessible toilets is a primary reason for disabled girls dropping out of schools and colleges. They are pushed indoors and excluded and when it comes to disabled women living in slums, the problems faced are far worse.
The Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan program clearly outlines rules and regulations that must be implemented in public toilets. This includes proving a wheelchair ramp, wide doors for a disabled person to move their wheelchairs, accessible water supply for people with all kinds of disabilities and so on. But these remain on paper.
This is case even in states that claim to be more accessible than others.
Anjurani Joy, lives in Kerala. She is a wheelchair user and says that despite Kerala's progressive record on accessibility, public toilets remain a nightmare.
"Lack of accessible toilets gets worse when you go out for a long day," says Joy. "Most of them do not even have wheelchair ramps. How can someone depend on such washrooms when they go outdoors?"
Talk of inclusion is all very well but when it comes to implementation, India has miles to go.