Changing mindsets in Papua New Guinea through disability-inclusive WASH

Two men and a woman with a visual impairment sit at a table with a small model of toilet facilities sitting o the table. The woman, Lucy is using the model to provide input on the design

The WaterAid Infrastructure team (Nagasi and Michael) built a model of WASH facilities, so Lucy who has a vision impairment could feel the design and provide technical input. (Wewak Team, WaterAid PNG)


Across Papua New Guinea, many people with disabilities experience marginalisation in many aspects of life from social attitudes about disability to challenges accessing water, sanitation and hygiene services (WASH). Since 2015, WaterAid has been working with the East Sepik Disability Persons Agency (ESDPA) to change this.


Ms. Lucy Henson is the ESDPA Executive Officer. Lucy is 42 years old and has been visually impaired all her life. Due to her impairment, Lucy has become highly skilled in reading and typing braille, and also works as the Braille translator for Callan Services in Wewak.


As a key member of Wewak District’s WASH Coordination Body (DWCB), Lucy presents regularly on the needs of people with disabilities. Lucy’s advocacy has helped to raise government awareness and knowledge of challenges faced by people living with disability in the region, leading to meaningful attitudinal change within both government agencies and WaterAid staff.


As well as her role on the DWCB, Lucy has been accompanying WaterAid on monitoring and community engagement trips, leading sessions on disability inclusion and rights. Lucy has made a huge impact both in attitudes towards people living with a disability but also to practical outcomes for WASH facilities through WaterAid’s consultation with her on WASH infrastructure design.


WaterAid has invested in capacity building of their staff and stakeholders in disability rights and inclusion. Working with the experts, through meaningful engagement and partnerships with Organisations of Persons with Disability (OPDs) and Disability Service Providers has been a central strategy of Water for Women to achieve this, enabling better representation and visibility of people with disabilities in WASH policy formulation, decision-making processes, and community activities. Investment in strengthening OPDs has been an important dimension of the partnerships, so that they feel better equipped to meaningfully advocate for disability rights to be included in decision making for climate resilient WASH. This work is supported by the Australian Government through WaterAid's Water for Women project, Inclusive WASH for Wewak.


Infrastructure Advisor, Nagasi reflected that “One thing that I got from Lucy today is even though the current beneficiaries don't have any people with disabilities, the tap stand must be located central to everyone for women and girls to access anytime safely. The community don't have people with disabilities now, but in the future there may be people with disabilities and it meets the needs of elderly people."


Margaret Sim, a village court magistrate from Dagua LLG was emotional when Lucy advocated about including women with disabilities in the Council of Women network so that they can also have access to such trainings through the network.


“As mothers here, listening to Lucy, we feel it in our hearts that we are the ones that will make change happen in our communities, we are the ones that will change mindsets and help people with disabilities and especially women with disabilities to come out and speak out.”


Recently, EDSPA was officially registered a disability organisation, being the first district DPO in Papua New Guinea to be registered. This has already paid dividends with the group successfully securing funding from the Department of Community Development to undertake a disability baseline, to build the evidence on disability needs which can be used to inform government services and support.





Learn how Water for Women are engaging meaningfully with people with disabilities in their full range of diversity and how more marginalised people with disabilities can be successfully reached, even when disability inclusion is relatively new to an organisation or team by downloading our latest learning brief below.

A blue graphic with the words 'Just launched' and a thumbnail of the cover of a HWS learning Brief

On International Day of Persons with Disabilities we celebrate the diverse lives and capabilities of people with disabilities – their knowledge, aspirations, and the solutions they bring to the table.


Climate change has the most impact on the poorest people and people with disabilities make up 20% of those most vulnerable to climate impacts. Inclusive development is more important than ever for creating a fair and equal society and building climate-resilience. Without it, there cannot be resilience. Inclusive WASH is a critical building block for the creation of an accessible and equitable world – an essential pathway towards building the health and resilience of all people to respond to the climate-related challenges in fair, just and equitable ways.


Being able to account for diversity in populations is critical to ensuring WASH services reach all people. Despite people with disabilities making up an estimated 1 billion people globally, many, particularly those living in remote and marginalised communities do not have equitable access to WASH services because their needs and interests haven’t been considered.


Our partners are working across Asia Pacific to ensure WASH services and systems are disability-inclusive and accessible to all.


Contact Us