Despite Being Perfectly Healthy, I’m Forced To Wear Adult Diapers To Work

WaterAidEditor’s Note: This post is a part of #InDeepShit, by WaterAid India and Youth Ki Awaaz to understand the reality behind the inhumane practise of manual scavenging in India. You can speak up against this form of discrimination and share your views by publishing a story here.

By Jolly Mohan:

For the last 29 years, answering nature’s call has been one of my biggest struggles – because finding an “accessible toilet” in our country is like finding a needle in a haystack. When I took up my first job at a domestic call centre, I knew it had no lift, was on the first floor and came with toilets not designed for a wheelchair user like me. But I had no choice as I really needed to work. To help navigate my first hurdle – the stairs – I would reach office 30 minutes early, and my friends at work would physically carry me up the stairs, wheelchair and all (thank God for good friends). But this was the easy part.

jolly-mohan
Jolly Mohan

It was the visit to the washroom, each day, that was painstaking, backbreaking. The door was too narrow for my wheelchair. So, at the entrance, I would shift into a regular chair and lock the door behind me. With all my might, I would hop along with my chair, towards the toilet seat. I would then shift myself onto the pot and do my business, then shift back to the chair and hop again with all my might towards the entrance. I would then slip into my wheelchair and hurry back to my workstation. This routine continued for two years, and even though it began taking a toll on my spine, I continued with it, as my career and livelihood, depended on it.

When I heard that multinational companies are more accessible, I started applying for jobs with a vengeance. But through my career, I have realised that washrooms at several MNCs are “wheelchair friendly” in name only. I have had to use toilets that resemble garbage dumps, and ones that are cleaned so rarely that they smell like public toilets. Often, they are used by anyone and everyone. Sometimes there are no latches inside, and I have a constant fear of who will enter next. I have cried myself hoarse to human resources about the issues but with little success, as the needs of a wheelchair user are perhaps not understood.

For the uninitiated, here’s what a truly “wheelchair friendly” aka “accessible” toilet looks like:

  • The width of the toilet door should be wide enough for the wheelchair to enter
  • Doors should be light so that a wheelchair user can open and close them with ease
  • Washbasins, taps and switches should be easily reachable
  • There must be railing bars on the side of the toilet seat for support
  • It would really help if there’s a platform where a person can lie down in case they need to change their clothes
  • Wheelchair users also use mirrors, so they need to be placed at the right height
  • Last but not the least, the toilet should be clean, and accessible at all times to those who genuinely need them

Some hotel chains like the Taj, Lemon Tree, Four Points by Sheraton and Ginger – have really taken pains to make their properties fully accessible. When I recently stayed at the Lemon Tree hotel, I was touched to see a foldable wooden seat in the shower area. That I could sit and take a shower so leisurely, without having to lug a chair into the bathroom, meant the world to me. When I got married two years back my new home was completely redesigned to meet my needs. The washroom is 8 feet by 9 feet and I don’t face any challenges. But the moment I have to step out, I start to panic. Being a person who loves to travel, I have to call every place in advance to check if it has accessible toilets. 90% of the times this is not the case. So, I need to prepare myself accordingly.

What this means is that I end up drinking very little water on most days. I am forced to wear adult diapers. Yes, diapers, even though I am not incontinent. When I first started using them, I felt very, very odd. But as time went by, I realised that if this is what it takes for me to lead a “normal” life, then so be it.

Going for long periods of time without water has had its own side effects. Kidney stones, for one. I am also prone to Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) due to poor hygiene levels of most accessible toilets. And being a paraplegic, the healing process is more complex; it entails multiple visits to the doctor and increased dependency on others. I have also had to take unpaid leave, sometimes up to six months, leading to loss of pay, in the face of rising medical expenses.

Many recruiters may not realise this but the need for accessible toilets for wheelchair users like me is absolutely critical. In fact, I can say with confidence that if tomorrow, I am given a choice between working for a company that offers tonnes of money but does not understand accessibility, and one that pays me less but enables me to answer nature’s call with dignity – I would choose the latter. After all, no one can put a price on peace of mind and human dignity.

India has over 54 lakh citizens with a mobility impairment, many of whom use wheelchairs, according to the Census of 2011. The lack of accessible toilets impacts all spheres of their lives – education, careers, livelihoods, the ability to travel independently, and live a life of dignity. It’s time we as a nation, advocate for the right to accessible toilets for all.

I am Jolly Mohan, 32, brought up in Lucknow. I did my MBA in Human Resources from Lucknow, and currently work at Bank of America, Gurgaon. I love travelling, meeting new people, and work hard to excel in whatever I do.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

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With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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Find out more about the campaign here.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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