Could you imagine what would happen to you when you need toilet and you can’t find it or cannot use it?
Without appropriate and proper restrooms, the dignity, health and hygiene of people with disabilities is significantly affected. This is a huge problem for the Cambodian with disabilities, 8.1 percent of the whole population a census of the National Institute of Statistics in 2008. And although chapter 5, article 6 of Cambodia’s Law on the Protection and the Promotion of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states clearly that “All public places with bathrooms shall arrange a bathroom for persons with disabilities”, this is far from the reality.
Sadly, there is a shortage of accessible restrooms for people with disabilities in Phnom Penh. Only 15 public restrooms in the city are accessible to people with disabilities, according to Ngin Saorath, the executive director of the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization, who is struggling for basic services for Cambodians with disabilities.
“What we want to see is something acceptable, so that disabled people can use a public toilet without help from others,” he said in February.
Accessible restrooms are necessary not only for the health and hygiene of people with disabilities, but is also crucial for them to maintain their strength, competency and independence. It is demoralizing to need to rely on others’ help for every single task, especially for something like using the restroom. As one woman with a disability put it, “… who wants to share their intimate bathroom needs out loud?”
To make restrooms accessible to those with mobility issues and other impairments requires adjustments such as ramps for wheelchair users and handrails in bathroom stalls. These are relatively small adjustments, yet the government claims that budgeting is a problem when it comes to developing disabled-accessible buildings in Cambodia. Em Chan Makara, Secretary General of Disability Action Council, who sits under the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation, has noted it is a challenge to find the money to, for example, build disabled-accessible ramps.
But the cost wouldn’t be too great for the government to build disabled-access toilets. The restrooms have already been built; all that needs to be done to make them accessible is removing their barriers.
And there is funding available to improve public services for people with disabilities. Under Cambodia’s “Disability Rights Initiative Cambodia” (DRIC), the United Nations Development Program, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) received $13.1 million AUD from the Australian government to support the DRIC’s objective for “improved quality of life for persons with disabilities.” The DRIC could allocate part of its budget to provide more accessible and disabled-friendly restrooms to improve the lives and well-being of Cambodians with disabilities.
Using the restroom is a necessary need and important for everyone’s daily life. It is miserable for Cambodians with disabilities not to have accessible restrooms in Phnom Penh. The government needs to address this problem, and provide incentives for private institutions to provide equal access to people with disabilities. Cambodians with disabilities need to be able to use the restroom everywhere they go: restaurants, hospitals, schools, workplaces, supermarkets, and recreational places.
As Cambodian law states, it is the Cambodian government’s responsibility to ensure that accessible restrooms are available for Cambodians with disabilities, to guarantee that they are are not discriminated against and no one is left behind.
Phorn Raksmey is a Young Research Fellow of Future Forum, an independent Phnom Penh-based public policy think tank. He is currently conducting a research project on urban accessibility for disabled people.