The sustainability of water resources plays a pivotal role in environmental and social safeguards and acts as a driving force for governance. It is crucial to make sure that water is accessible to all. As outlined by the United Nations as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 stands as a fundamental approach to empower individuals with disabilities by advocating for inclusive access to water and sanitation services for all.
The government of India has invited the public and various stakeholders to provide input and recommendations regarding guidelines for ensuring accessible and inclusive piped water supply for individuals with disabilities and other groups facing difficulties accessing such services.
Announcement Made by Disabilities Affairs Department
The Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation has formulated preliminary recommendations to contribute to the “Harmonized Guidelines and Space Standards for Barrier-Free Built Environment for Persons with Disabilities and Elderly Persons”.
In an official announcement, the Disabilities Affairs Department has released a preliminary version of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Amendment) Rules, 2023, focusing on the Accessibility Guidelines for Piped Water Supply for Individuals with Disabilities and Other Communities Facing Accessibility Barriers, as well as the Accessibility Standards for Community Toilets in Rural Areas. Public feedback and input are solicited on these drafts from the general public and various stakeholders. The department has welcomed objections and recommendations regarding the draft guidelines until October 30th of this year.
The preliminary document provides guidance on creating an accessible and inclusive piped water supply system, catering to the needs of individuals with disabilities and other groups facing access difficulties. This encompasses individuals with temporary access challenges, such as pregnant women, mothers with young children, or those with short-term physical ailments, who encounter similar obstacles when accessing drinking water facilities.
Features of the Guidelines
The document conducts a comparative analysis of existing guidelines and proposes recommendations for an all-encompassing design for piped drinking water supply, spanning household, community, and institutional settings, including public offices and places.
The guidelines encompass a variety of facilities and institutions, including anganwadi centres, primary and secondary schools, health and wellness centres, civil and district hospitals, panchayat offices, and marketplaces.
The features outlined in these guidelines incorporate elements like water points designed to be baby-friendly in terms of their height, location, and ease of access. Additionally, they include the installation of handrails or grab bars at drinking water points to assist those with mobility issues. The guidelines also recommend the use of Braille indicators on taps, the implementation of automatic sensors, and the incorporation of adequate colour contrast or tonal variations on walls to benefit individuals with low vision or partial blindness.
The guidelines also recommend modifying the height and structure of water points to accommodate individuals with disabilities. Specifically, the recommended height for children should range between 500-700 mm, while for wheelchair users, it should be less than 850 mm. In practice, this might require the installation of two water points at different heights or the use of a flexible modular unit with two water points, as indicated in the guidelines.
Despite looking good on paper, however, there are still issues with the guidelines that remain unaddressed. Himanshu Raha, the founder and chairman of the Agewell Foundation, emphasized that while this document appears promising in theory, it must better reflect the ground realities of India. “First, the focus should be to provide safe and continuous drinking supply to these vulnerable groups who are struggling for it. Otherwise what would be the point if water is not available to them but all these facilities are in place,” he stated, in a report by NDTV.