A decade-long partnership: achievements in disability-inclusive WASH

Celebrating International Day of People with Disabilities | 3rd December, 2018


Timor-Leste has a National Disability Policy, social support measures in place and an active disability rights sector. Despite these positive measures, people with disabilities face ongoing stigma, while infrastructure often remains physically inaccessible.

To address this, WaterAid Timor-Leste and local disabled person’s organisation Ra’es Hadomi Timor Oan (RHTO) have had a decade-long partnership, one that will continue on in Water for Women.

The partnership with RHTO has transformed our thinking, expanding staff and partners’ understanding of the challenges people with disabilities face. As a result we’re better able to identify people with disabilities’ needs, hear their priorities and support their advocacy.

As we’ve strengthened our understanding of the barriers people face and built capacity to address them in our programming, we’re now moving to engage others. Several recent activities include:

  • developing accessible infrastructure guidelines, for households and schools;
  • developing flipbooks to facilitate community discussions around disability inclusion and WASH;
  • incorporating disability inclusion messages into our hygiene education campaigns; and
  • delivering training on disability inclusion for NGOs, government and donor staff.
Two smiling and hugging women

Above: Ernesto, who has a visual impairment, accessing clean water as a result of WaterAid and RHTO's work together
(WaterAid /Jafet Potenzo Lopes)


Left: A decade of strong partnership in Timor-Leste: Gertrudis from WaterAid (l) and Silvia from RHTO (r)
(WaterAid/Tom Greenwood)

These activities are the evolution of a decade of work alongside RHTO. They build upon our experiences of identifying people with disabilities and their needs, constructing accessible infrastructure, referring people to providers of services beyond WASH, and delivering community education on appropriate language and inclusive behaviours.

Accessibility status of infrastructure in the areas we’ve worked offers signs of progress. Nearly 90 percent of locations we surveyed in Likisà and Manufahi considered the needs of people with disabilities in infrastructure planning, while 90 percent of systems constructed met accessibility requirements.

We attribute this success to the deep involvement of RHTO staff in all stages of activities, from planning to implementation. This has been critical to projects going beyond simply meeting accessibility standards as defined in policies, but also placing people with disabilities at the very heart of solutions. Working in this way provides opportunity to achieve more sustainable and equitable access. More than this, it offers scope for WASH programs to be transformative, facilitating deep change that is more likely to be sustained, and to contribute to the wider behavioural and attitudinal change that is required to achieve universal access.

Water for Women will see us continue this partnership, contributing to the realisation of the National Disability Policy by promoting collaboration and integration of disability rights and services into institutional WASH service delivery. Having established gender-sensitive and disability-inclusive WASH approaches and capacity with local NGOs through our work with RHTO, the focus now shifts to sharing and scaling-up this work through training and mentoring others, so that all Timorese people have access to the basic rights of water, sanitation and hygiene.

“Inequalities and limited institutional capacity are some of the major difficulties in Timor-Leste. Water for Women funding will allow us to address these challenges, building on our previous work to support marginalised groups to gain access to WASH as well as working with government to strengthen the WASH sector and improve sustainability of services.”

- Edmund Weking, Program Director, WaterAid Timor-Leste

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