Breaking the Barriers: Going beyond stereotypes and stigmas of people with disabilities

From ideas to action: This Tanzanian social activist is an inspiration for all.

” The only thing worse than being blind,  is having sight but no vision.” – Helen Keller.

Dec 3:  International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

There are only two types of people in the world. Those with who are disabled. And those who are temporarily abled.”

Persons with disabilities in impoverished nations like Tanzania are among of the most neglected and vulnerable individuals in the world. They do not enjoy equal access, and sometimes no access at all to transportation, employment, education, social and political participation. And even basic services like access to clean water and sanitation. Water and Sanitation Hygiene (WASH) service in Tanzania…

By Msafiri Msedi, Mwanza, Tanzania


Disability is the umbrella term for impairments that limit human activity. It can either be acquired at birth, old age, violence, disease, or in an accident.

There is a vicious cycle between poverty and Disability, Poverty may increase the risk of disability and disability may increase the risk of Poverty. Poverty may lead to the onset of a health conditions associated with disability for example low birth weight, malnutrition, furthermore lack of clean water or adequate sanitation, unsafe work and living conditions has lead to occurrences of disability and injuries..

As a supporter in Disability inclusion issues, I advocate for a break in this link through the systematic inclusion of disability within all development processes.
At a young age, I contracted Polio when I was four years old; however I did not let it limit my mind and body, personally, I have an experience of working and serving a Community of Persons living with disabilities in Tanzania. And as a person with a disability myself, I am passionate about disability rights and human rights issues in general. It is also because of this that I am aware of the existing situations and realities faced by PWDs in Tanzania;

Despite having ratified the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and enacting the Law on Persons with Disabilities in 2010, Tanzania still faces many challenges on enacting disability-related policy.

What is written in the act and policy does not correspond with the “on the ground” reality. Determined to make a difference, I started raising awareness and advocating at the grass-roots level for Persons with Disabilities in Tanzania and founded Tusaidiane Disabilities (TDRCT)  in 2013 to analyze policy, create awareness, advocate for change and influence policies to support PWDs in Tanzania.

I take great honor to get a chance of sharing with you some thoughts about the Situation of Persons with Disability in Tanzania with particular focus on Water and Sanitation Hygiene (WASH) and Disability. Taking into consideration that Persons with disabilities have a right to good health and are entitled to whatever services that are provided in the society.

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Overcoming obstacles and misunderstandings
Different reports are written quoting that persons with disabilities are among the majority who are forced to have unhygienic practice because of lack of accessible WASH facilities. As for myself, I am one among those individuals who faced the situation and I still face and observe the existing situation.

I explain this because am one among the victim and survival on issues related with Persons with disability in different areas including issues related with WASH, I was fortunate to have parents who understood the value of hygiene as from my childhood my mother used to prohibit me from using an unhygienic bathroom and toilet which are occupied by able-bodied people, for years my mother used to carry a special container for helping me to ease myself because I could not access the unfriendly restroom.

When I moved away from home and joined secondary school studies; the school toilets were very unhygienic. Because it was a boarding school located in remote area, I used to use an optional of finding a place in the nearby bush to ease myself and I developed a plan of conditioning my body to adopt the situation of going for this service of defecation in three times in a week or during the night hour where I cannot be seen by people and for urination I used to find any suitable place outside the majority toilet as long as it is hygienic for my side, that is; I had to do open defecation despite of knowing the side effect for the environment, it was not ease situation; I am grateful as the bush was a farming place so defecation was a part of increasing manure to the field in a wrong way, however that was the situation which faced me and that was my creativity to adopt the situation. With such condition, I succeeded to finish 4 years studies despite of the fact that the environment was not suitable for me and no one cared for me as well in such matter.

When I joined university taking my bachelor I experienced the same situation, the environment was not accessible and unfriendly, as a grown up person it was hard to keep on practicing the routine of secondary school, instead I asked the dean of student to allow me to take one room of a toilet which was still not accessible but was cleaned and others were prohibited to use t, for privacy purpose, I used it as a bathroom and toilet at the same time, even that situation was challenging for me as I used to face a lot of infection like amoeba and typhoid as my WASH was not in acceptable standard.

Such conditions still exist in many Tanzanian schools forcing many children with disability to fail to attend school or fail to finish studies as they fail to adopt with the existing situation despite of the fact that Water and sanitation Hygiene (WASH) are human rights.


Looking back and going forward
As I look back and the present situation, I observe a lot of changes that are happening in our communities, I am eager to use this story to address the WASH gap with a particular focus on SDG goal number 6 and its relation with PWDS; that is Water and Sanitation Hygiene (WASH) and Disability. Taking into consideration that the world has already moved away from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) toward the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in the MDGs Persons with disabilities were not included and consequently excluded from many development initiatives and funding streams. In contrast, the SDGs include persons with disabilities. I am optimistic that this post is a perfect platform for influencing decision-makers, policy-makers, community members, and family members to advocate for inclusive and accessible WASH.

A lot of places in Tanzania which are involved in offering restroom services in public places like recreations places, worshipping places, public places, schools restaurants or bars in most cases its conditions are very poor for PWDs, they posses narrow doors without ramp which is hard for wheelchair user to access, there is no good supervision in terms of hygiene and clearness, and its infrastructure are built without consideration of inclusion for PWDs; for instance those with poor vision or visual impairment they report to experience accessibility challenges in these toilets. Moreover, some of the Washroom environment tend to drive out desire of PWDs to use them when the tiles are wet as it can lead to slippery of calipers when a person pass through it. Many of PWDs have reported that they fail to get washroom service on time or they completely fail to get such service when it is far away or it is not accessible or not hygienic, in nut shell they experience a lot of trouble which sometime force them to abstain from responding to natural call or even conditioning themselves not to eat or drink water when travelling long distances by buses for instance so that they should not go to bathroom frequently, such condition affect even their health in a negative way.

Persons with disabilities should not have to be the most vulnerable if attitudes, systems, infrastructure, and services in society are user-friendly and accessible. It could benefits more PWDs if community members, local government authority, faith based organization and NGOs collaborate and opens the door to transforming a community into a more welcoming and supportive environment for Persons with disabilities.

We need to advocate for inclusive WASH by prohibiting the operations of any public toilet that is not accessible to PWDs so as to build the culture of recognizing the dignity of PWD this can help in the process of building their self-esteem as human beings, Inclusive WASH can ensure better access to education, improve their participation in social life and create greater livelihood opportunities. Most importantly, Inclusive WASH matters because it recognizing the value and dignity of each person created in the image of God and taking actions to express this concretely. Furthermore, PWDs should be empowered to advocate for inclusive WASH and take advantage of opportunities to become agents of change.

We believe that every child deserves clean water. Let’s cast the net further to make sure all children – including those with disabilities – know that they are equally loved, valued and respected, and can enjoy this basic human right!


About the Author

Msafiri Msedi. Msafiri is a Tanzanian who works with the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance in Tanzania, where he is presently responsible for Promoting and Protecting Human Rights. Msafiri is an alumni of Future Generations University, having obtained his Masters in Community Change. He is passionate about human rights, disability & diversity, empowerment, and information technology. He has worked as a volunteer with organizations for PWDs, and is a founder of the NGO called “Tusaidiane Disabilities Resources and Charity Organization of Tanzania” (TDRCT), which is registered to work in mainland Tanzania. The Swahili word “tusaidiane” means “let’s help each other.”  Currently, Msafiri works in the organization as an Executive Secretary. You can reach him through email:

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