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Sohel, 10, was born with a physical disability affecting his feet, making it extremely difficult to walk. Rajuma, 6, also has a physical disability, where she experiences pain in her knees and is unable to walk long distances.
Both Sohel and Rajuma are Rohingya refugees living in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. For children with disabilities living in this camp, it can be extremely difficult to access some of the services, such as learning centres located far from home, health clinics situated in rocky terrain or even basic sanitation services that lack handrails or any type of support.
However, with the introduction of a new product that transforms a standard latrine into a disability-friendly solution, Sohel and Rajuma are now able to safely and more easily use the sanitation services.
“With my feet, it is very hard for me to use a normal latrine, but I can sit on the new latrine without hurting myself.” – Sohel
“I can use this latrine and my knees won’t bite me,” – Rajuma
Children with disabilities are one of the most marginalized groups in society. They face discrimination that prevents them from participating on an equal basis in their communities and amongst their peers. The discrimination and barriers faced by children with disabilities are often exacerbated in emergencies.
During a humanitarian response, the sanitation facilities in refugee camps typically involve the construction of latrines that require squatting. Unfortunately, these are often not suitable for children and adults with disabilities – like Sohel and Rajuma – who have difficulty squatting and balancing.
With the aim to find a solution that enables for safe use of latrines, UNICEF worked with the private sector to develop an assistive technology device. This resulted in the innovation of an add-on modular component that fits onto traditional latrines to make them accessible for persons with disabilities.
The entire innovation process took nearly three years of collaboration between the users and product developers, with UNICEF facilitating and driving the project. In the early innovation stages, the Danish Handicap Foundation helped with the development of the prototypes by providing feedback and guidance on the needs of persons with disabilities. During the pilot phase, persons with disabilities in Angola and later in Bangladesh were involved in testing the new latrines. Their feedback helped inform the refinement of the products as well as the wider programmatic guidance to support humanitarian staff successfully implement them during emergencies.
By involving persons with disabilities, including children, throughout the entire project via a human-centred design approach, a fit-for-purpose and high-quality product was created.
UNICEF commitment to children with disabilities
In addition to Sohel and Rajuma, hundreds of others have been accessing the new latrines, as they too were involved in the pilot-testing phase. This includes people with different types of disabilities as well as chronic illnesses, the elderly and pregnant women.
To ensure more persons with disabilities – including children – are reached, UNICEF plans to introduce the product to their Emergency Supplies List in support of humanitarian responses this year. The aim is to include the new add-on component to 10 per cent of all squatting plates dispatched by UNICEF during emergencies. It is estimated that 2,500 disability-friendly latrines each year will reach thousands of children with disabilities worldwide.
The product is now available for procurement via the UNICEF Supply Catalogue and already being prepositioned in many countries, including Mozambique. The disability-friendly latrines were used successfully in response to Cyclone Idai in 2019 and 260 have been added to the UNICEF emergency supplies stockpile in-country.
“Access to appropriate assistive technology is critical for disability inclusion. Assistive technology enables persons with disabilities to access critical services, participate equally in the community and live with dignity.”
– Gopal Mitra, Senior Social Affairs Officer, Executive Office of the Secretary-General, United Nations
UNICEF will continue to innovate assistive technology solutions so that children with disabilities can play, learn and participate on an equal basis.
For more information on the project, visit the UNICEF Disability-friendly latrine project webpage
To learn more about the impact these devices have had in Bangladesh, see original article published by UNICEF Bangladesh in November 2019.
CLICK HERE to learn more about MIT Innovation Initiative’s Inclusive Innovation Program.