By Joseph Maina

Persons with disabilities (PWDs) face multiple challenges when trying to access conventional toilet facilities. This is because most of them are designed for people without physical challenges. Due to the mobility challenge, the structure poses difficulties for physically challenged persons.

With this in mind, an entrepreneur from Kajiado County, Kenya, has developed a user-friendly toilet that specifically caters to the needs of PWDs.

Sylvia Nyaga is the brains behind the Utulav toilet, designed to provide safe and hygienic ablutions to persons with physical disabilities.

Utulav toilet

“Most persons with disabilities cannot use a normal toilet,”Nyaga told Science Africa. “There are also pit latrines, which are not user friendly. Some of these even have steps at the entrance, which adds to the difficulty.”

She added: “A good number of live in the low income neighborhoods and slums, where shared pit latrines are the key ablution facilities available. These are not easy to use, Squatting is particularly difficult for many persons with mobility challenges, which renders use of ordinary toilets untenable.”

Nyaga says in such instances, people with physical disabilities may be forced to use alternative measures of responding to calls of nature. “For many of the people I have personally interacted with have been forced to use tins or basins to respond to calls of nature. I’ve seen a case where the person used a paper, which would be laid on the floor,” she said.

Such measures, Nyaga says, not only increase the burden for caregivers, but also demean the person with disability.

“These are very undignified methods. These methods have a way of stripping the person with disability of their dignity. It’s quite an embarrassment to have someone clean up after you,” she stated.

Utulav toilet

In addition, there are sanitation problems for both the person with disability and the caregiver, the latter who is exposed to human waste that can lead to health problems.

“For caregivers there’s also the possibility of splash-back when disposing the waste, which is in itself unhygienic. The Utulav toilet seeks to address this challenge,”Nyaga said.

Utulav toilet features two main parts, namely the toilet itself and a support frame that works in the same way as a wheelchair, designed to support the person while responding to the call of nature.

It is a portable utility, which makes it possible to use even with bedridden persons. The toilet is made of high-density plastic, which renders it sturdy and makes it easy to clean.

The toilet features two tanks, one of which lies on top and houses the toilet bowl. It empties into another tank, which has a biodigester installed. The biodigester ensures a cleaner environment for the household, while limiting the need to empty the toilet every day.

“We piloted the toilet last year, and finished the pilot early this year. The toilet is now ready for the market. It retails at Ksh30, 000 (approximately USD270),” Nyaga said.

“The materials used are hardy enough to provide lifetime guarantees. There are armrests for added comfort, and at the back is a tarpaulin sheet that provides reclining support.”

Save for infants, people of all ages can use the toilet “Our youngest user is ten years old,” Sylvia said.

At the time of our interview, there were 18 units of Utulav  in use among various PLWDs in the country.

Utulav toilet

The challenges for disabled persons

Veronicah Nyabonyi, a resident of Vietnam neighborhood of Mukuru Kwa Njenga slums in Nairobi and whose one leg was amputated, has been using this toilet for a year as part of the pilot phase. She says this has made it easier for her to attend to her calls of nature, while restoring personal dignity.

Before procuring the toilet, Nyabonyi would use a tin, whose contents would later be disposed of in an ordinary toilet.

“We were among the first beneficiaries of this toilet,” Nyabonyi told ScienceAfrica.  “In the past, I was unable to visit a toilet as this would involve very strenuous squatting, and so I used to use a tin. This toilet has been very helpful.”

Possible setback

While acknowledging that Utulav toilets have the potential to alleviate the suffering of many persons with disabilities, Nyaga concedes that the price tag for the units may pose an affordability challenge for many households.

To get around this challenge Nyaga is reaching out to charities that may help procure the toilets for distribution to people who may not afford them at the household level.

“One way of resolving the challenge, is by selling to non-governmental organizations, which can then avail the toilets to persons in need”, Nyaga said.

If made accessible, the specially designed toilet could be a relief to some of the 0.9 million Kenyans living with some form of disability, according to the 2019 National Census.