Inclusive innovation transforms a standard latrine into a disability-friendly solution

The latest UNICEF innovative product is helping children with disabilities safely access sanitation services. This assistive technology solution, piloted in Angola and Bangladesh, is now ready to be introduced to emergency programmes worldwide.

By Amanda Westfall with contribution by Esther Shaylor, Rashad Wajahat Lateef & Seigfried Modola
Bangladesh-UNICEF
UNICEF/UNI346129/Modola
07 July 2020

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 

UNICEF

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.

Inclusive Innovation 

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.   

Inclusive innovation squatting plates with supportive frame
UNICEF/UNI346098/Asamoah
The project resulted in two products. One of the products (left) fits over UNICEF’s standard squatting plate dispatched in emergencies and includes a supportive frame and a transfer point to move onto the seat. The other product (right) also includes a supportive frame, but instead of sliding onto the plate, it screws onto different types of squatting plate designs. Both products were developed to offer simplicity in terms of transportation and assembly so that implementation during emergencies is quick and seamless

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.  

Sohel smiles in his home in Camp 16
UNICEF/UNI227550/Modola
Sohel smiles in his home in Camp 16, Balukhali refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. He is able to use the disability-friendly latrines on his own, when the ground is firm enough for him to walk on and reach the latrine.

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.