arrow_backEmergency WASH

X.15 Inclusive and Equitable Design

Access to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use is a recognised human right. Water services and facilities are often designed in a standard way, without considering the diversity of requirements of different user groups. Particularly in the rapid response phase, where time and money are limiting factors, traditional and standard designs are often preferred. However, there is a wide range of different abilities and requirements in any affected community, and traditional designs will inevitably result in people being excluded from otherwise well-intentioned water facilities and services. Inclusive designs should be considered in all phases of the response and throughout the complete humanitarian programme and project cycle and in Standing Operating Procedures (SOPs). Protection principles and mainstreaming disability, age and gender in the assessment, planning, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation stages are humanitarian standards that must be followed to ensure everyone can exercise their right to water.

An inclusive and equitable (or universal) design approach considers diversity as an integral part of society, and the requirements and rights of different groups and individuals are equally valued and properly balanced. Persons with disabilities are estimated to represent 15% of the world’s population and include persons of different genders and ages with long-term visual, hearing, speech, physical, psychosocial or intellectual impairments. Too often, institutional, social or environmental barriers prevent them from equally and meaningfully participating in society, and because they are among the most marginalised persons in crisis- effected communities, they are also disproportionately affected by emergencies and conflicts.

Inclusive programming aims to actively engage all user groups and to identify and remove such barriers. Inclusive design aims to create facilities and environments that can be used by everyone, irrespective of age, gender, disease, impairment or other discriminative characteristics. Safety, protection, dignity and autonomy, improves health and well-being, provides social support systems and counteracts stigma, targeted violence and ignorance. Often only minor adaptations or design improvements are needed to make WASH facilities more inclusive, and these generally come with little additional costs, particularly when considered in the design stage. For physical accessibility, an additional budget of 0.5–1% should be considered, and for non-food items and assistive devices, an additional 3–4 % may be needed.

To be inclusive, all potential user groups need to be adequately considered and actively engaged in the design of water supply facilities and services. This inexhaustive list includes persons with different disabilities, people of different ages (especially older persons and children), sick or injured people, pregnant women, and women and girls who have specific requirements for their safety. People may belong to different user groups at the same time (intersectionality), and some of the potential user groups may be hidden or less visible. It is essential that facilities are built from the perspective of the persons concerned, and those concerned should be consulted and actively involved in the program design and implementation process. Otherwise, invisibility in data leads to invisibility in programs. Data needs to be disaggregated based on at least gender, age and disability, and the different user groups should participate meaningfully in all phases of the project cycle to identify requirements, barriers, enablers and risks.

Inclusive programming requires a twin-track approach that combines inclusive mainstreaming in WASH programmes with targeted interventions for persons with disabilities. First, mainstream interventions designed for the entire population need to include persons with disabilities, e.g. accessible water points with clear signage. Second, WASH programmes need to address the specific requirements of persons with disabilities by providing targeted interventions, e.g. transportation allowances and adapted jerrycans. Within both tracks, the meaningful participation of persons with disabilities is crucial and can be achieved through the development of collaborative partnerships with the disability community. Interventions, adaptations and/or design improvements to ensure an inclusive approach to water supply may include: 

Assessment and monitoring

  • Collecting quantitative and qualitative user group data and ensuring that it is disaggregated by gender, age and disability.
  • Raising awareness and building capacity of staff, outreach workers and partners for understanding gender, age and disability, universal design, the identification of specific requirements, risks and the capacities of different user groups.
  • Inclusive monitoring of the response to ensure inclusion of all user groups.
  • Consulting different user groups, including persons with different disabilities, genders and ages to both inform the location, accessibility, design and use and to understand barriers of water supply facilities and services.
  • Involving organisations of persons with disabilities and the elderly in WASH responses and seeking advice from specialist organisations on how to ensure that sanitation facilities are accessible.
  • Partnering with local and national organisations of persons with disabilities (OPDs) in WASH responses and strengthening OPD capacities where needed.
  • Ensuring that all relevant user groups are represented in community WASH committees and WASH program evaluations. Ensuring that OPDs and other relevant organisations have meaningful access to the WASH cluster or similar WASH coordination mechanisms. Ensuring that sufficient funds to support meaningful access are available.
  •  Providing and budgeting for reasonable accommodations where no mainstream solution is available to ensure participation of and access for persons with disabilities on equal basis with others.
  • Ensuring accessible feedback and complaint mechanisms for persons with diverse disabilities.

Availability of accessible water facilities

  • Designing a minimum of 15 % of all public water points as barrier-free and as accessible as possible.
  • Considering individual inclusive water points.

Reaching the facility

  • Minimising distance between public or shared facilities to homes and shelters by locating accessible water points and other WASH facilities within 50 meters of individual shelters in emergency phases and 30 meters in long-term interventions. This can be done by, for example, providing piped water into or next to a house, installing a rainwater tank or storage facility near a house, installing a household well in the compound of the home of the person with a disability or installing a communal well in close proximity. Individual solutions as targeted actions should be accompanied by community awareness raising to avoid increased stigma and potential harm.
  • Offering shaded resting places on the way to the source.
  • Providing clear signage of accessible water points and information in different formats, such as pictograms, text and/or audio.
  • Providing artificial lighting at and on the way to the water points to ensure safety and accessibility.
    Other water-related activities (e.g. washing clothes, food cleaning, etc.) can be taken to the water source to avoid issues with carrying large quantities of water.
  • Improving ability to reach water sources through a level, firm, even and non-slip path (ideally 180 cm wide, minimum 90 cm) lined with rocks or providing guide strings or other landmarks for persons with visual impairments to find the water.

Accessing the facility

  • Signalling the entrance for people with poor vision, such as by a changing floor texture or contrasting colours.
  • If stairs or a ramp are necessary, providing both if possible, or otherwise prioritising a ramp over stairs. The slope should be as gentle as possible (ideally 1:20, and no steeper than 1:12) with intermediate platforms if it is long. Steps should be of the same height and depth, with highlighted edges and handrails. Double handrails on both sides are especially necessary in hazardous areas (e.g. close to a pond/river). Care should be given to the path leading to the stairs or ramp, which should also be easily accessible.
  • If the water point is fenced (e.g. to keep animals out), providing a gate that is at least 90 cm wide and opens outwards with the least possible effort and with a large lever handle (no round handle) to allow wheelchair users to enter.
  • Installing the pump near the edge of the apron and building a concrete sitting platform allows wheelchair users to sit whilst pumping water, without having to enter the normally slippery apron area.
  • If entering is necessary, the apron should be at the same level as the surroundings with a kerb or a ramp to allow wheelchair users to enter. The surface should be slip-resistant and provide space to manoeuvre.

Using the facility

  • Providing a pump with a long T-bar or P-handle (length around 105 cm) at a suitable height to be reached by persons using a wheelchair, children or persons of short stature. To enable simultaneous pumping and container holding, the spout and the pump handle should stand at a 90° angle to each other, and the spout should be located around 70 cm above the apron.
  • Fitting open wells with simple pulling devices (such as a pawl winding mechanism) and treadle pumps (foot power). When no lifting mechanism is possible, a safe place to stand or to sit should be provided together with a raised well wall (between hip and waist and lower for wheelchair users; minimum height 50 cm).
  • Providing lifting blocks near the water collection facility to make it easier and safer to lift the container in two steps when carrying on the head.
  • Preferably installing two taps: One between 80–100cm in height for people using a wheelchair and one higher for people who struggle to bend. In both cases, this should be high enough to fit a container underneath. If the tap is located over a basin, it needs to be reachable sitting and standing. Large taps are better than small ones, and so-called hospital taps are especially recommended. Screwdown taps are to be avoided and should be replaced by lever-type taps. 

Carrying, storing and using water

  • Potentially providing accessible containers or mobility aids to facilitate water carrying. Water containers can either be carried directly on the head, on the back, or by hand while using crutches or a wooden yoke, or indirectly using a wheelbarrow, for example. Water containers can also be carried on the footrest or under the seat of a wheelchair or on a wheelchair trailer. Useful containers include jerrycans, buckets and bowls, jars or soda bottles (with different advantages and draw backs to each). For people using wheelchairs, carrying water may be easier than drawing it, and this can be their contribution to the family’s tasks.
  • Distributing drinking water through a tap attached to the storage container. Whilst the container may be filled by a family member, its position within the household and its height from the floor should ensure that a family member with a disability can access and use it at ease to guarantee his/her autonomy.
  • Securing privacy for bathing needs for people with disabilities. An internal water source with good drainage would be optimal. To rest and sit while bathing, benches might be necessary, though water-resistant wheelchairs can be an alternative. In natural water sources, a rail of rope or bamboo that leads into the source can be useful, as well.
  • Considering washstands and laundry slabs for clothes and dish washing.

Information dissemination

  • Disseminating all relevant WASH information and hygiene promotion messages using appropriate and various communication means (e.g. large print, loudspeaker, easy-to-understand language, sketches and diagrams).
  • Communicating accessible WASH facilities, including water points and washing areas, with clear signage.

Jones, H., Wilbur, J. (2014): Compendium of Accessible WASH Technologies WEDC, WaterAid, Share, UK

Jones, H., Reed, B. (2005): Water and Sanitation for Disabled People and Other Vulnerable Groups WEDC, Loughborough. UK

ADCAP Consortium (2018): Humanitarian Inclusion Standards for Older People and People with Disabilities CBM, HelpAge, Humanity & Inclusion., Bensheim, London, Lyon. Germany, UK, France

CBM (2017): Humanitarian Hands-On Tool. Step-by-Step Practical Guidance on Inclusive Humanitarian Field Work CBM, Bensheim. Germany

DIAUD & CBM (2016): The Inclusion Imperative: Towards Disability-Inclusive and Accessible Urban Development Disability Inclusive and Accessible Urban Development Network (DIAUD) and CBM

IFRC, Humanity & Inclusion, CBM (2015): All Under One Roof: Disability-Inclusive Shelter and Settlements in Emergencies IFRC, Geneva. Switzerland

IASC Task Team on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action (2019): Guidelines on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action

Humanity & Inclusion (2018): Disability Data Collection. A Summary Review of the Use of the Washington Group Questions by Development and Humanitarian Actors

UNICEF (2017): WASH Guidance. Including Children with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action UNICEF, New York. USA

UNICEF (2018): WASH Technical Paper. The Case for Investment in Accessible and Inclusive WASH UNICEF, New York. USA

World Bank Group (2017): Including Persons with Disabilities in Water Sector Operations World Bank Group, Washington D.C. USA