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A panoramic view of one of the buildings inside the Palais des Nations next to some trees and behind some artwork.

Each year, on November 19th, the world observes World Toilet Day, a day to raise awareness about global sanitation issues and promote safe toilets and water for all. This year at UNOG, we chose to spotlight an often-overlooked aspect of this crisis: accessibility for individuals with disabilities.

We produced a short video that brings to light the critical need for accessible bathrooms in workplaces. This isn't just about meeting a standard; it's about enabling dignity, independence, and comfort for everyone, especially for those with disabilities.

We also bring you an insightful interview with Marco Zanin, a wheelchair user with firsthand experience navigating the challenges posed by inadequate facilities. Marco, a Human Rights Officer at OHCHR who often works at the Palais des Nations, shares his perspectives on what true accessibility means and how it impacts daily life.

Accessibility isn't just a convenience—it's a fundamental right.

Let’s spark conversations and inspire action towards creating a more inclusive world, one where every person, regardless of ability, has access to safe and dignified sanitation facilities.

World Toilet Day 2023: Accessibility Matters

Advancing Accessibility: Marco Zanin on Inclusive Workplace Environments

To mark World Toilet Day, we focus on the important issue of access to toilets in the workplace and what it means for people with disabilities or mobility issues. We had the privilege of interviewing Marco Zanin, a human rights officer at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and a wheelchair user who often works on the Palais des Nations campus. In this interview, Marco shares his insights on accessible toilets and offers suggestions on how to improve accessibility.


Marie-Eve Bélanger (MEB): I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the role of accessibility in all workplace areas, including restrooms, in contributing to create an inclusive environment and promoting equal opportunities. What has been your experience or observation in this regard?

Marco Zanin (MZ): Accessibility in the workplace, including areas such as toilets, plays a crucial role in creating an inclusive environment and promoting equal opportunities. Ensuring that physical and digital spaces are accessible to everyone is not only a legal and ethical obligation, but also a key factor in fostering a diverse and welcoming workplace.

From an accessibility perspective, it's important to consider a range of factors, including physical disabilities, sensory impairments, and cognitive differences. Accessible toilets, for example, should be designed to accommodate people with mobility issues, ensuring that facilities are wheelchair accessible and have appropriate grab rails. Visual and hearing impairments should also be considered, with accessible signage and features such as visual alarms or tactile elements.

In my experience, companies that prioritize accessibility tend to have a more inclusive culture. When employees feel that their needs are considered and accommodated, it fosters a sense of belonging and equality. This, in turn, can lead to greater job satisfaction, productivity and overall employee well-being.

Legislation mandates accessibility in the workplace. However, organizations that go beyond mere compliance and actively embrace accessibility as a core value tend to reap the benefits of a more diverse and engaged workforce.

In conclusion, a commitment to accessibility in all aspects of the workplace helps to create a truly inclusive environment, breaking down barriers and promoting equal opportunities for all employees.

MEB: In your view, what should be the key considerations in designing accessible restrooms, particularly for individuals with mobility challenges? Are there any aspects you think are often overlooked or should be prioritized?

MZ: When designing accessible toilets, especially for people with mobility issues, several factors need to be considered. Doors should be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and there should be enough space within the toilet to maneuver comfortably using mobility aids. Accessible toilet cubicles are essential, with appropriate grab bars and space to transfer from a wheelchair to the toilet. Sinks and mirrors need to be placed at heights suitable for wheelchair users, and strategically placed grab bars should provide support near toilets and sinks. The use of non-slip flooring increases safety, while clear and visible signage ensures easy navigation.

It's also important to have emergency alarm systems and assistance options available. Adequate lighting is essential for people with visual impairments. Automated features such as touchless taps and soap dispensers can further improve accessibility. Regular inspections are necessary to ensure that all features are in good working order. Often overlooked aspects include ensuring there is enough space under sinks for wheelchair access and keeping the floor clear for easy maneuverability. Incorporating visual and tactile elements in signage is also essential for people with visual impairments.

MEB: I'm curious to know about how the availability of accessible facilities factors into your decision-making when planning to attend events or visit new places. How significant is this consideration for you?

MZ: Regrettably, this issue is more pertinent to the city of Geneva itself rather than the United Nations premises, which generally cater well to the needs of manual wheelchair users. The primary challenge lies in Geneva as a city, where establishments like restaurants, bars, gyms, and other social venues often overlook the necessity for accessible toilets on their premises. Consequently, individuals with disabilities find themselves compelled to contact these places in advance to assess accessibility before planning a visit. This situation frequently leads to individuals refraining from participating in formal or informal events due to the absence of essential accessibility features.