Foot-operated pedals to turn on taps, hand rails or grab bars at drinking water points and braille indication on taps are among the features included in the Centre’s draft guidelines on accessible piped water supply for persons with disabilities, elderly and other vulnerable population groups.
The Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation has prepared draft guidelines to provide inputs to ‘Harmonized Guidelines and Space Standards for Barrier Free Built Environment for Persons with Disabilities and Elderly Persons.’ This draft document suggests information for designing an accessible and inclusive piped water supply for persons with disabilities and other population groups with access challenges.
Those include people with temporary access challenges such as pregnant women or mothers with young children or individuals who are suffering from short term physical ailments, as they too face similar barriers while accessing drinking water facilities.
In this document, the existing provisions of the various guidelines are compared and provisions are suggested for inclusive design of piped drinking water supply at household, community and institutional level, including public offices and places.
Different facilities like the anganwadi centres, primary, secondary and residential schools, health and wellness centres, primary, community health centres, civil and district hospitals, panchayat offices and market places are covered under the guidelines.
The features in the guidelines include baby-friendly water points (height, location, ease of access), hand rails or grab bars at drinking water points for those suffering from mobiliy issues, braille indication on taps, automatic sensors, and use of adequate colours or tonal contrast between walls for people with low vision or partial blindness.
The guidelines also suggest adjusting the height and design of water point for people with disabilities.
“The height and design of the water point need to be adjusted for children and people with disabilities. For children, the height should be between 500-700 mm and for wheelchair users less than 850mm.
“In practice, this will require either two water points set at different heights, or one flexible modular unit with two water points,” the guidelines said.
Rights groups have welcomed the guidelines but suggested their strict ground implementation to help vulnerable groups.
Arman Ali, executive director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People, said India is home to more than 100 million people with disabilities (highest in the world) and the physically inaccessible piped water supply violates their right to life guaranteed by Article 21.
“The said inputs for guidelines on accessible and inclusive piped water supply for persons with disabilities are a necessary step to be taken in today’s time and would be beneficial to millions of people with disabilities as well as other population groups such as senior citizens if implemented in its letter and spirit,” he told PTI.
Himanshu Raha, founder and chairman at Agewell Foundation, however, pointed out that this document seems to be good on paper but it needs to incorporate Indian realities.
“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 pointed out.
“When we are unable to provide piped water to all Indian households, providing non-contaminated drinking water is a challenge we can’t possibly take up this in the near future,” he added.