Internship Opportunity: Innovation Research
Goggles for the blind: Young inventors pushing boundaries

Written by: Jessica Tribbe, Innovation Specialist, Water & Sanitation 

A boy stands outside newly installed latrines in a Buhimba camp for the displaced, near Goma, capital of North Kivu Province. © UNICEF/UNI5674/Holt

Approximately one billion people in the world are living with a disability, 80% of which are living in developing countries. 1 in 10 are children and this number is ever growing. People with disabilities face not only social discrimination but also barriers to accessing services such as health, education, employment, and transportation.

This inequality is further exacerbated during emergencies – as the environment and infrastructure lack design to accommodate their needs – potentially leading to further marginalization. Improvements in the accessibility of the environment, buildings, and facilities, including latrines, can help foster inclusion.

Developing assistive technologies (ATs) can provide children with disabilities more access to basic services. ATs can be a powerful tool to increase a child’s independence and participation, especially during emergencies. Sanitation solutions in refugee and IDP settings typically consist of plastic plates layed over a pit dug in the ground and covered with temporary sheeting or basic structures. These pit latrines are usually communal squat-style toilets and are constructed in blocks of 5 to 10 stalls. These temporary structures lack the components that provide accessibility to elderly and people with disabilities, including children. In some cases, local solutions such as small wooden stools are set over the slab hole – providing access to disabled individuals. However, these solutions can pose health and safety issues to users since they are not standard products which can be safely attached to the plastic plate. Also, this short term solution can be unsteady when used, and difficult to clean, collecting dirt and bacteria.

Gopal Mitra, Programme Specialist at the Disability Unit at UNICEF reaffirms the importance of AT innovation highlighting that “accessible latrines for women, men, boys and girls with disabilities will bring dignity and fulfill basic rights for people with disabilities affected by disasters and conflict.”  In addition, he states that “simple innovations can go a long way in improving everyday lives, including in emergency contexts.”

A woman waits to use one of the UNICEF-provided latrines in a transit camp near the Tunisian-Libyan border © UNICEF/UNI107680/Ramoneda

UNICEF seeks to improve this solution and provide better access to latrines in emergency settings such as refugee camps and settlements. In 2016, UNICEF Supply Division (SD) shared a Target Product Profile (TPP), which includes product criteria to guide product developers on designing new solutions which can easily be integrated into the existing latrine products used by UNICEF in emergencies. A call for Request for Proposals (RFP) has now been launched seeking prototypes of innovative design solutions. The purpose of this call is to receive solutions and field trial these across various UNICEF settings. This aims to:

  • Encourage suppliers to consider or develop universal designs that address a broader spectrum of needs and disabilities
  • Emphasize the importance designing with the users, and in gathering feedback from the field
  • Encouraging more proposals that create solutions with an innovative lens

This approach in product development is in line with UNICEF’s Innovation Principles including designing with the user to develop fit-for-purpose solutions; fostering a collaborative approach to engage a diverse set of expertise across disciplines and industries, and improving solutions through data-driven field trial methodologies.

A displaced woman cleans latrines, near other tent structures in South Sudan © UNICEF/UNI169055/Nesbitt

For more information on this project, please visit the project page, and stay tuned for updates on the field trial later this year.


Internship Opportunity: Innovation Research
Goggles for the blind: Young inventors pushing boundaries