Transforming from “us” and “them” to simply “us”

A disability help desk focal person is sitting at the desk in Nepal, viewed side on, as if through a door

A focal person of the Chandandagar Rural Municipality at a disability helpdesk on a work day, these helpdesks are serving an average of 15 people each day, read the full story. (SNV Nepal) 


Building an inclusive and climate-resilient future for all: International Day of Persons with Disabilities


The greatest challenge of our time is even greater for “them”

Climate change is here and with it, more frequent and devastating climate disasters across the globe. What is also clear is that the impacts are being felt disproportionately by the most marginalised people and communities. Coupled with increased global attention on climate action, is the urgent need for holistic responses that leave no one behind. We cannot afford an “us” and “them” mindset when it comes to addressing the climate crisis and achieving the sustainable development goals, or we are destined to fail.  

Inclusive development is more important than ever for creating a fair and equal society and building climate-resilience. Without inclusion, we can’t build resilience. Inclusive water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is a critical building block for an accessible and equitable world – essential for healthy and resilient communities able to respond and adapt to climate-related challenges in fair, just and equitable ways.

Being able to account for diversity in populations is crucial to ensuring WASH services reach all people. Despite people with disabilities making up an estimated one 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 have not been considered. Climate change has the most significant impact on those who are the poorest, and people with disabilities experience poverty at more than twice the rate of people without disabilities.


Addressing the multiple dimensions of marginalisation

“[People with disabilities] are not a homogenous group ... the economic status of their families, the geography they belong to, education level of their families have a huge impact on their lives, marginalisation and opportunities.”

Water for Women partner, Disability-inclusive WASH: Practice within Water for Women


For many people with disabilities, the greatest barrier to their access to services and inclusion more broadly, is the systemic discrimination and stigma that they face. Their opportunities to participate in society on an equal basis with others are limited, due to their marginalisation on all levels: cultural economical, institutional, political and social. Pro-actively addressing stigma and negative norms relating to disabilities is what can really shift the needle in bringing transformative change to the lives of people with disabilities, to ensure they have their say in what accessible and inclusive WASH services look like for them.


Us + them = Us

Transforming the common narrative of "us" and "them" means thinking and acting in transformative ways - shedding 'old' ways of blinkered and siloed thinking that keep us from acting inclusively and holistically. But to do this, we need to invest in people. After all, it is people who shape and drive our systems forward. Transformative solutions depend on reshaping our systems to be truly inclusive of people with disabilities, so that their voice, agency and rights are fully realised in decision-making processes and structures. This requires concerted advocacy efforts for inclusion on all fronts – in our households, communities, schools, organisations, workplaces and institutions.

Over the last five years of Water for Women, we have learned many things about disability-inclusive WASH. The most important foundation has been the focus on investing in organisational and staff capacity, so that accountability starts with us in creating and supporting transformative practices that better enable equal opportunities and outcomes for people with disabilities.


Partnerships create and sustain “us”

Water for Women partners have 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 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.

As a result of these partnerships, WASH program staff and partners, as well as government duty bearers have felt more motivated, confident and equipped to advocate for the interests of people with disabilities, support their leadership and facilitate co-design processes that transform infrastructure to be more inclusive of and accessible to diverse needs in communities, schools and health care facilities. This is key to building climate-resilient communities, better equipped to serve the needs of people in all their diversity, as well as ensure these diverse needs are being met when climate disasters strike.

“Water for Women has allowed the resourcing to focus on rights, and gender and disability, that has given the space to support that work and focus on participation. Plus the broader shift in WASH practice towards systems strengthening that enables that."

Water for Women partner, Disability-inclusive WASH: Practice within Water for Women


Disability-inclusive WASH: sharing our learning

On International Day of People with Disabilities, we celebrate the diverse lives and capabilities of people with disabilities – their knowledge, aspirations, and the solutions they bring to the table. “Nothing about Us without Us!” remains a powerful reminder to us all.

Today, Water for Women is proud to launch our Learning Brief, Disability-inclusive WASH: Practice within Water for Women, which highlights valuable learnings and insights gained over the last five years. Above all, it gives important recommendations on approaches to transforming WASH organisations and services to be inclusive of people with disabilities in all their diversity, so we all have a meaningful and equal stake in a climate-resilient future.


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

Key recommendations for WASH actors

The following 10 recommendations are offered and explored in our newly launched learning brief as ways to build upon the lessons outlined and respond to the challenges of designing, implementing or evaluating disability-inclusive WASH interventions.

Invest in research, analysis and data collection

Create participation opportunities

Engage OPDs and disability service providers

Apply a norms change approach with Do No Harm

Account for intersectionality

Foster independence

Strengthen systems

Look for linkages

Capture disability-inclusive data

Support knowledge and learning


Below we share some of the examples and stories from partners who are delivering disability-inclusive WASH across the Asia Pacific region from their projects and some practice examples from our newly launched learning brief.


From the learning brief

Intra-household WASH access - SNV Nepal

During the Water for Women design phase, SNV identified that its baseline survey and situation analysis provided information on household-level access to water and hygiene and where people with disabilities were living. However, it did not identify specific experiences of people with disabilities (for example, the extent to which community-level water delivery translated into practical access to water for all household members).


SNV, with technical support from CBM Global’s IAG, designed a formative research process that involved district OPDs. Research team members were trained on disability awareness, inclusive communication skills and inclusive research methods. Hearing directly from people with disabilities and carers had a big impact on project staff and OPD representatives involved in the interviews. The research findings prompted SNV to include several new approaches within its established WASH programming approach, including:

  • an assessment tool and prioritised project initiatives for people who require a high level of assistance with their water and hygiene needs
  • working with family members of people with high support needs
  • involving OPDs to build the team’s skills and confidence to start working with people with disabilities and establish effective partnerships with OPDs as the project progressed


From the learning brief

Co-design for disability-inclusive WASH and sensitising duty bearers - CFAR India

In India, the Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR) convened a resource group of 29 men and women with different types of disabilities and transgender persons from 13 wards in Jaipur. The group included members of the Community Management Committee, Single Window Forum, disability self-help groups, Slum Development Committee, and male and adolescent forums. The group took part in a multi-stakeholder consultation on the design of handwashing stations in institutional facilities, including Anganwadi (childcare centres), schools and health centres. Representatives of the Social Justice and Empowerment Department and Integrated Child and Development Services, OPDs and the fabricator-vendor designing the unit were invited to the consultation. An audit of the existing handwashing station design was conducted. Based on the audit, the resource group recommended changes in design to make it accessible and disability-inclusive, and for the duty bearers to be sensitised to the needs of people with disabilities.


Confidence building of people with disabilities – IRC Pakistan and Plan Indonesia

In Pakistan, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) found that few organisations had engaged people with disabilities previously. As a result, people with disabilities lacked the experience or confidence to participate in local WASH governance committees. It took a year of involving people with disabilities in community awareness sessions before they were ready to join the committees.

In Indonesia, Plan International found that pairing people with disabilities with existing champions of inclusion among local WASH leadership strengthened people with disabilities’ influence in community processes, and made them more likely to have a positive and effective experience of engaging in local WASH mechanisms.


Disability organisations and self-help groups for systems strengthening and Do No Harm - WaterAid Timor-Leste

A key achievement of Water for Women has been the broad extent of engagement with OPDs across the projects. This is reflective of our mandate to engage rights holder organisations (RHOs) as key stakeholders. Working alongside OPDs elucidates barriers to influencing decision-making processes and points to strategies for improved inclusion.

In Timor-Leste, WaterAid has collaborated with OPDs for advocacy at multiple levels. At community level, they raise community awareness of the rights of people with disabilities and promote their participation in community WASH committees. At national level, they have collaborated with OPDs to advocate for the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and for accessibility to be part of public building codes.

From the learning brief

Strengthening OPDs to build organisational skills and capacity - WaterAid PNG

In Papua New Guinea (PNG), WaterAid’s Water for Women project aims to strengthen WASH governance and service delivery systems and ensure the effective participation of women and people with disabilities within them. The project baseline study revealed that existing services and governance mechanisms did not include the voices of people with disabilities.


To fill these gaps, WaterAid identified a strategic local partnership with the provincial OPD, the East Sepik Disabled Persons Association (ESDPA), which was small, had few resources and was not very active at the time. WaterAid supported the capacity of ESDPA to effectively engage in and influence WASH governance mechanisms. It focused on providing core organisational development support to ESDPA as a key component of strengthening the overall WASH system. Support has included strengthening ESDPA’s board functioning and election process, improving their operational systems and gaining access to other funding through grant applications. WaterAid also had a disability technical advisor supporting its team, allowing ESDPA to focus on strategic representation work in the district (without having to become technical WASH specialists).


The collaboration has seen significant growth in ESDPA’s governance and operational systems, and its capacity to represent people with disabilities in the district and to engage WASH stakeholders. ESDPA now has a permanent role on the District WASH Committee, raising awareness and informing the District WASH Plan’s specific provisions on inclusive WASH. Its members lead awareness-raising workshops and join WaterAid staff on community visits to collect data on people with disabilities and provide links to disability services. ESDPA is continuing to work and seek funding with CSOs and other partners

From the learning brief

Disability Inclusion in WASH policy – LSHTM, WaterAid and CBM

Policy analysis tools for inclusion

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and WaterAid adapted the human rights policy analysis tool (Equiframe) and developed a tool that assists in analysing WASH policy for inclusion. They found that some national WASH policies included commitments to persons with disabilities, but these are not translated into practice consistently (Scherer et al. 2021). This analysis has enabled project partners to influence the Bangladesh National Institute of Local Government to include materials on disability inclusion in its training package for local government officials. CBM Global has developed a briefing paper that identifies ‘4 Ps’ for Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Climate Change Plans: Personal, Programmes, Policy and Political (CBM Global Disability Inclusion 2020). Water for Women’s community of practice on disability inclusion is using this briefing paper as a reference document in addressing climate change for people with disabilities.

A smiling woman sits in her wheelchair in Cambodia

Navy, 29, Kro Lanh Village, Orussey Commune, Kampong Tralach District, Kampong Chhnang Province, Cambodia (WaterAid / Sokmeng You)


As part of their Water for Women research project that has been investigating how the national WASH policies of Cambodia and Bangladesh can more effectively address the needs of women and girls with disabilities and female caregivers, LSHTM and WaterAid are releasing their findings for International Day of Persons with Disabilities as the research project comes to a close.

Read their blog

Translating disability-inclusive water, sanitation and hygiene policies into practice in Cambodia and Bangladesh: what do we know? 

You can learn more about this work, the findings and related tools and outputs on their website: Translating disability inclusive WASH policies into practice: lessons from Cambodia and Bangladesh



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.


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