Where There is No Accessible Toilet

Toilet in the tiled floor with places to step while squating over the bowl, and a basin of water is next to it.
In developing countries and rural areas, western-style accessible bathrooms are often difficult to find or non-existent. Here's how to make it work.

Four billion people worldwide use squat toilets, including most of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America. Generally, these toilets have a water bucket or hose for hygiene, not toilet paper. Some wheelchair travelers find squat toilets more accessible than western-style toilets with the proper modifications.

Negotiate a Tight Squeeze

You can try to shave width off of your manual wheelchair to fit into narrow bathrooms or stalls. Options include using a belt to cinch folding chairs or removing one of the wheels from the chair long enough to pass through the doorway. If you want to use this option, practice at home before departure.

One traveler who uses a manual wheelchair found that replacing the stall door with a light curtain provided both access and privacy.

Dress for Success

Dress strategically so that clothing won’t interfere with urination, especially if you need to go outdoors. Dark-colored clothes are helpful in case of accidents, along with packing an extra set of clothes on your day trips.

Another option is to modify a wheelchair to include a toilet seat to position over an in-ground squat toilet in more remote areas.

Use the Buddy System

Many cultures value interdependence over independence. If you need assistance when traveling, be willing to ask for help and prepared to show the correct way for helping. You may also need to firmly refuse help when it is not requested or when it is inappropriate.

An assistant with the right physical skills and the right attitude can help with inaccessible bathroom situations. This could involve lifting or assisting with balance, providing privacy at inopportune times or offering inconspicuous clean-up in case of an accident.

Have the Right Tools

Consider options such as a travel urinal, portable commode, or bedpan, which allow you to go to the bathroom even in inaccessible areas or if you cannot locate a bathroom in time.

One traveler carried gloves to stay hygenic in situations when she had to touch the dirty ground or surfaces.

Make a Rest Stop at Hotels and Businesses

In general, accessible bathrooms may be found in businesses, cafes or hotels and may be more likely (but are not always) found in businesses owned by U.S. companies.

Many hotels, particularly those catering to tourists, have western-style sit toilets, though they may not be accessible. Larger or more modern hotels may be more likely to have accessible options, particularly high-end hotels. If you're staying at the hotel, don't hesitate to ask in advance for detailed information or even photos about your hotel room's accessibility (even when it is billed as "accessible."

See Related Links for equipment examples. Mention of an organization, company, service or resource should not be construed as an endorsement by MIUSA/NCDE.

Photo by Axek Drainville Khlong Hin Krabi, Thailand 2011 Creative Commons 2.0 Generic; resized.