Lack of toilets restrict access to public spaces for differently abled women
Parliament recently passed the Rights of Persons With Disabilities Bill, 2014. While the new Act covers many more disabilities and issues, is it equipped to address the challenges that a differently abled woman faces in her daily life?india Updated: Jan 08, 2017 13:26 IST
“I don’t eat a full meal for dinner. We don’t have a toilet at home and I can’t see at night to go out in the open to relieve myself if needed. I control myself till around 8 or 9 am when it becomes light enough for me to see at least a foot or two around me. But with my low vision, I am never sure if someone is watching me,” Mumbai-based disability rights and gender justice activist, Nidhi Goyal quotes a young girl from Gujarat as saying, in her 2015 blog post for Azaadi Ki Udaan.
Parliament recently passed the Rights of Persons With Disabilities Bill, 2014. While the new Act covers many more disabilities and issues, is it equipped to address the challenges that a differently abled woman faces in her daily life?If toilets didn’t seem like a top-of-the-list challenge for differently abled women to most people, an Internet post by a wheelchair bound woman in India changed that last month. The woman wrote about being forced to wear adult diapers to work because offices didn’t have accessible toilets.
“Absence of accessible toilet is not a microcosmic problem. It is a major worry. It is one of the things that restrict access to public places for women with disabilities,” says Delhi-based academician and gender rights activist Anita Ghai. Ghai admits to not drinking water when she is outside home, so that she doesn’t have the urge to relieve herself. “It is common for women with disabilities to suffer from kidney stones because either they don’t drink enough water or don’t relieve themselves for long hours,” she says.
“I don’t drink water when I am outside the house, so that I don’t need to visit the toilet. It is common for women with disabilities to suffer from kidney stones because either they don’t drink enough water or they don’t relieve themselves for long hours”
In the film Q2P, filmmaker Paramita Vohra had addressed the issue of lack of enough public toilets for women. “It is disturbing that the simplest of human needs, to relieve oneself, is often so difficult for women to satisfy,” Vohra had told Hindustan Times in an interview in 2014. The problem is more acute for a differently abled woman. “The lack of toilets, and accessible ones at that, is the grassroots example of the disabling environment that the social model of disability describes,” Goyal writes in her blog post.
Bengaluru-based Meenu Bhambhani gives her own example. “On a recent road trip from Jaipur to Ajmer, when we stopped for a loo break, I couldn’t use the toilet because there was not even a basic western-style toilet. This is a problem especially in the smaller towns and in rural India – most toilets are Indian-style.” Where there are accessible toilets, they are often locked. Ghai remembers a recent visit to a multiplex in Delhi. “The mall where the multiplex was located had an accessible toilet, but it was locked. Clearly they were not expecting anyone to use it,” she says.
If it can be accessed, it is often so dirty that one wouldn’t want to use it. “When I use the accessible toilet at the airport, I usually peep in once to see whether it is clean. At the accessible toilets, the floors are often left wet, there is no toilet paper or soap. There is never a full-length mirror, though there is always one in the general women’s toilet,” says Bhambhani.
It is the same in the few offices that do have accessible toilets. “The janitor doesn’t bother to clean perhaps because they are not expecting too many people to use it,” says Shivani Gupta, inclusive design consultant. Designs are also often not according to specifications. “The height of the toilet, the basin etc are often not according to globally-agreed upon standards,” she says.
The bigger issue being the absence of accessible toilets, few waste time cribbing about the fact that in India all accessible toilets are unisex. “In the US, both men’s and women’s toilets had one kiosk each for the differently abled. We do need unisex toilets because sometimes the differently abled person might need to be assisted and the caregiver may not be of the same gender. But that’s no reason why they can’t also have a stall inside the men’s and women’s toilets also,” says Gupta.
The fear of being not able to relieve themselves, restricts access to public place for many, feel activists. “The government talks of creating inclusive spaces, but there are no ramps on public transport, crossing roads is difficult. And there are no toilets. Just the physical access is so difficult,” says Ghai.
Disclaimer: The features often use the word disabled instead of differently abled since many feel the latter is just a euphemism that makes no qualitative difference to their lives