VIRUDHUNAGAR: When public spaces lag in becoming accessible to persons with disabilities, the Virudhunagar district has pioneered a scheme to ensure that at least the basic needs of the disabled persons can be met in their homes. Realising that very few houses have toilets that are disabled-friendly and no government scheme exists to fill this gap, the district officials, led by Collector J Meghanatha Reddy, created a project named Udhayam to build accessible toilets.
The seed for the project was sown during a meeting held at the collectorate on July 6 where Deputy Collector (training) Shalini met one Pandiselvi, a person with a disability, who said she had to crawl into the restroom at her own home to use it. The Collector wanted to find a solution to the problem, Shalini said.
Less than two months later, five accessible toilets have been set up at the homes of disabled persons, and construction of another five are underway. “The toilets have a ramp, a western commode, a hand faucet and railings so that the person need not seek anyone’s help at all. Further, the toilets are large enough to accommodate a wheelchair’s movements,” said Thilagavathi, DRDA Project Director.
“We have identified 10 people for the pilot project and aspire to cover at least 100 in the coming days,” the Collector said. “While the focus is on women, the scheme is to ensure that all people, including the disabled, get a dignified and decent space for fulfilling their basic needs,” he added. The toilets are being constructed in spaces adjacent to their houses, so that it is also safe and easily accessible.
“We have learnt how to construct a sustainable and cost-effective toilet. It takes around Rs 30,000 to Rs 35,000 for each so we are trying to converge funds from wherever possible: CSR funds, No One Left Behind scheme, funds from the Aspirational District Programme, and others. We plan to initially cover individuals at the Samathuvapuram, while expanding the project to include others,” Reddy added.
PwDs & caregivers welcome district’s initiative
Thilagavathi said that while the focus is on all disabled persons who need assistance to use toilets, women with locomotor disabilities are being specifically identified. An official, seeking anonymity, noted that disabled women and children face more problems. “There are instances of them being sexually abused even by their family members. When they go outside to use community toilets or open spaces, they face ridicule and threats,” the official said.
An assistant engineer involved in the project said that the modalities for construction were taken from the Harmonised Guidelines and Space Standards for Barrier Free Built Environment for Persons with Disability and Elderly Persons from the Union Urban Development Ministry. “We made a few changes to make it more comfortable for the user, though we followed the basic guidelines,” the engineer said.
According to Thilagavathi, 22 beneficiaries have been identified across 10 Samathuvapurams in the district, so far. Officials added that they will also be identifying existing toilets in houses that can be modified. Disabled persons and caregivers have welcomed the initiative.
Officials pointed out that while parents or caregivers can help a disabled person with food, shelter and clothes, needing support to use a toilet can become highly traumatic for the person with a disability. Shalini noted that there have been instances of people having to manually dispose of the human waste after not being able to assist the disabled person to use the toilet. “My brother found it undignified or uncomfortable when we assisted him in using the toilet,” said 18-year-old Ilango from Sattur, speaking of his 16-year-old disabled sibling.
“Thanks to the accessible toilet, my brother now feels comfortable and uses it without much help,” he said.Saravanakumar (38), the father of a nine-year-old girl with a lower body disability, agreed that the accessible toilet had proved extremely helpful for his daughter.