International Day of People with Disabilities | 3rd December


The ongoing COVID-19 crisis and its impact on persons with disabilities

There are more than one billion people living with some form of disability. 80 per cent of them live in developing countries, and, globally, persons with disabilities experience disproportionate poverty. COVID-19 has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities faced by persons with disabilities. These include disparities in stigma and discrimination, access to health-care services, the digital divide, social protection and the risk of violence and abandonment - especially of those living in long- term care and institutionalized settings. Women and girls, indigenous peoples, migrants and refugees, older persons and other marginalised populations are further exposed to intersecting risks. The pandemic can be an impetus to find new solutions for building more sustainable, inclusive and equal societies. Many hard-earned gains are now at a crossroad. It is, thus, imperative that disability-inclusion be an integral part of crisis response, recovery and “building back better.”



A vision for a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 world

People with disabilities have a clear vision for their future and for a world that includes them. A world where every person is able to live their life fully and equal - free from stigma and discrimination. Water for Women shares that vision.


Building Back Better

As we to look to the future there is an opportunity to build back a better world for all, and address inequalities and injustices inherent in our current systems. We all have a role to play in building a society that listens and acts on the ideas, priorities and perspectives of people with disabilities, and understanding that we can only achieve this by ensuring that their voices are brought to the centre of decision-making.


This International Day of People with Disabilities (IDPD), we are joining the campaign to call for a world where all people feel valued and heard; and can access their human rights. Across Asia and the Pacific, Water for Women partners are working to ensure that disability inclusion is embedded in our water, sanitation  and hygiene (WASH) projects, the voices of people with disabilities are heard and their WASH needs met.


This year’s theme is of particular relevance to WASH projects, which have played an important role in COVID-19 preparedness, response and recovery. The question we must strive to answer is: how can we make sure that WASH policies, institutions and programs in the post-COVID-19 world are more inclusive and accessible than they were a year ago?


“Building back better requires us to look beyond simply responding to COVID-19 and ensuring no one is left behind in our efforts. We need to ask ourselves: how can we use the momentum and resources for COVID-19 response to challenge inequalities and ensure access for all?” says CBM Australia’s Asahel Bush, Disability Inclusion advisor to Water for Women.


Whilst this is an important every day, IDPD offers an occasion to pause, celebrate successes and generate momentum towards our goal of inclusive and equal access to WASH - for all - and do this in partnership with people with disabilities and their representative organisations.


Below we share some stories from our partners on their work in disability inclusion and how they are bringing the voices of the marginalised to the centre of their work. Happy IDPD!


James who is in a wheelchair is showing a group of people around his community in Vanuatu, they are all wearing safety vests and smiling at the camera

James and the delegation. For people with disabilities access to water and handwashing facilities is essential with the threat of COVID-19 to enable key preventative measures such as handwashing. (Mike Esrom Kaun/World Vision Vanuatu)

World Vision Water, Women, and Disability report highlights importance of leaving no one behind

Despite the challenges that beset Vanuatu in 2020, a global pandemic and a severe tropical cyclone, their work in WASH did not stop and in fact has played a critical role in Vanuatu's COVID-19 response for communities.

During this year, a new and very important report was launched from World Vision in Vanuatu. One of the first of its kind in the Pacific, the report highlights the importance of leaving no one behind in accessing water and sanitation and participating in community life.

Designed and delivered by World Vision in consultation and collaboration with the Vanuatu National Statistics Office (VNSO), the London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine, and Vanuatu Disability Promotion and Advocacy Association and Vanuatu Society for People with Disability, the study reached 55,000 people to investigate access to and experience of water and sanitation, menstrual hygiene management and incontinence amongst people with disabilities, alongside those without disabilities, and in particular women, in Sanma and Torba provinces of Vanuatu.

For people with disabilities, the impact of poor water access is profound. The study found that people with disabilities have less hygienic, convenient or dignified access to sanitation facilities at home compared with people without disabilities.


Read more


Woman with a disability is in a wheelchair and smiles at the camera with a shop behind her

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

Understanding disability-inclusive WASH in Cambodia and Bangladesh

It is estimated that 15% of the world’s population lives with a disability. People with disabilities often experience greater challenges when it comes to getting access to the water, sanitation and hygiene services they need. Our partner, WaterAid’s vision of everyone everywhere having water, sanitation and hygiene means that through their work and collaboration, they are shining a spotlight on the WASH needs of people living with disabilities in developing countries.

Over the past year, WaterAid has been collaborating with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) on disability-inclusive WASH, with support from Water for Women. The research will help WaterAid and other WASH actors to better understand the impacts that disability-inclusive WASH is having in Cambodia and Bangladesh, and to apply this evidence in other countries.


Two guidance note thumbnail covers are featured on a blue background with the Water for Women logo in the top right

Inclusive WASH & COVID-19

Two guidance notes were released by Water for Women this year to help partners and the WASH sector embed inclusion into their COVID-19 responses and beyond. one on disability inclusion and one on SGM inclusion.

Access disability inclusion guidance note 


a woman wears a mask and a scarf against a blurred background

A Q&A with Ugyen Wangchuk, Executive Director of Ability Bhutan Society (ABS) - SNV in Bhutan’s Disabled People’s Organisation partner - sheds some light on how COVID-19 has impacted on people with disabilities’ access to WASH

COVID-19 responses in Bhutan: perspectives from Ability Bhutan Society

This Q&A sheds some light on how COVID-19 has impacted on people with disabilities’ access to WASH, and ongoing government efforts to ensure that behavioural change communications and safety measures are inclusive and wide reaching.

How has the pandemic affected various people with disabilities?

  • People with disabilities, particularly those in schools, have been unable to access learning materials as teachers are not able to facilitate individual learning packages.  
  • In the absence of teachers, people (students) with disabilities whose parents have not had the opportunity to attend schools are also not able to benefit from formal education and mentorship from their parents. 
  • Due to lockdowns and restrictions in movement, children have become bored with their new realities.
  • Online classes have not always been effective. Poor IT knowledge and skills, and internet inaccessibility, especially in remote areas, have hampered access to school lessons.
  • Parents living in poverty are unable to purchase electronic gadgets to aid in home schooling. 
  • Assistive technology has not been feasible for students with disabilities. 
  • Parents today are carrying the burden of care over their children, on top of their daily activities.


A man in a tricycle wheelchair is washing his hands at an accessible handwashing station in a settlement in India

Ramesh, who was involved in the setting up of this foot operated handwashing facility for his community is seen washing his hands at the facility (Centre for Advocacy and Research)

A voice for the marginalised creates accessible handwashing for the community - including all


In Swami Basti, Jaipur, India, Ramesh is proud to show off the newly installed, accessible handwashing station that he, his family and entire community can benefit from everyday to maintain their hand hygiene - important for their health always, but particularly with the threat of COVID-19 never far from their minds.

Swami Basti is a poor community in Jaipur, home to many vulnerable people and households who have suffered disproportionately due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 22 per cent of the world’s poorest people have a disability.[i] Disability and poverty are often linked as people living in poverty have a higher chance of acquiring a disability due to lack of medical care, poor nutrition, violence, unsafe housing, and getting injured at work.[ii]

Ramesh, who lives with a disability will not only benefit from this accessible foot operated handwashing station, he also played an important role in its creation!


Read more


A woman with a vision impairment is sewing some masks at a sewing machine

Aisha is from the blind and seeing impaired PAR group. She is happy to have found a new way to generate income during the challenges of COVID-19 (Plan International Indonesia)

Supporting the deaf and hard of hearing to communicate during COVID-19 in Indonesia

When the COVID-19 outbreak spread around the world, the women and people with disability Participatory Action Research (PAR) groups came together to discuss what the pandemic might mean for people in places like Sumbawa where sanitary conditions are poor and safe water systems are often lacking. It was clear that they had a role to play in this crisis to ensure community responses were inclusive and did not leave anyone behind. 

Participatory Action Research groups have been formed under Plan International’s ‘WASH and Beyond –Transforming Lives in Eastern Indonesia’ project which is supported by the Australian Government through Water for Women. Participatory Action Research is a way of trying to understand how the world works and can involve qualitative and quantitative methods. You can learn more about Plan's PAR work and learning in their report 'Participatory Action Research in Practice - WASH for Women and People with Disabilities.'

Through PAR, a diverse group of people have found their voices and are now actively contributing to Plan Indonesia's WASH project. The challenge of COVID-19 was an opportunity to further their influence and contribution through PAR with some positive results that show the effectiveness of this approach, a WASH response is, after all, a COVID-19 response. 

Read more


A group of people from different organisations are sitting around a board room table conducting a meeting

WaterAid holds Gender and WASH Working Group meeting with DPOs and Gender Organisation in Yangon, Myanmar. (WaterAid/Eaint Phu Myint Myat)

Initiating collective action to address diverse needs in WASH Services and infrastructure


“Some projects build toilets… but did not give awareness on how to use these toilets properly. These toilets are locked and people are reluctant to use them… So, before installing toilets, it is better to consult with the community and listen to what they need and the design they are comfortable with.” 

- A representative from Women’s Organization Network

To ensure everyone, everywhere has access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene it is fundamental to collaborate with gender focused organisations, disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and those representing other marginalised groups. This is a large focus for Water for Women partners who are working to ensure that their WASH projects reach all in community and meet the diverse needs of those within communities.

That is why WaterAid Myanmar is creating a space for collaboration and longer-term engagement with people form gender focused organisations, disabled people’s organisations and other marginalised groups in their Water for Women project to strengthen systems for inclusive WASH services in healthcare facilities (HCFs) and ensure their work is accessible to all.

Read more


An online training screnshot with trainer and a slide to help participants understand the different challenges the people with a disability face

Online training from PerDIK (Monash University)

Capturing disability issues in multidisciplinary research projects

Indonesia has a Law on Persons with Disabilities, but the voices of people with different needs in sanitation and clean water infrastructure are still limited. Unfortunately, infrastructure often remains physically inaccessible.

To overcome this, Water for Women's research partner, Monash University and Emory University have partnered through their RISE Indonesia project with a local organisation of persons with disabilities, the South Sulawesi PerDIK Foundation. PerDIK have provided RISE Indonesia field workers with an in-depth understanding of disabilities before they conducted online household surveys.

Disability Online Training has enlightened the fieldworker’s approach to conducting research with people with disabilities. 

"Our perspective on disability is different,” said Pak Hamdan.

Hamdan's day-to-day work as a field officer is to conduct human and environmental sampling and also household surveys. Thanks to this training, his perspective on disability has changed. He works closely with people with different needs in several settlements in the RISE research locations.

During the training, Pak Hamdan got a new perspective on how to capture data about disability using the Washington Group Questions.

"The training has helped us to identify people in the research locations with different abilities who might find it harder to take part in the program or receive the benefits of the program" he said. He also learned that “Society often gives labels to people with disabilities. Labeling that is often degrading, degrading, and marginalising.”

Capturing the experiences of people with different needs in a multidisciplinary research project is an important part of the online training program for this research project, led by Hasanuddin University, Monash University and Emory University, and supported by Water for Women.

Learn more



[i] World Health Survey. (2002-2004). Geneva: World Health Organization. Retrieved from

[ii] Groce, N. (2004). HIV/AIDS & Disability: Capturing Hidden Voices. Global Survey on HIV/AIDS and Disability. Connecticut: The World Bank/Yale University. Retrieved from:  

Contact Us