FEM Disability Project: Building Self-reliance


The Federated Employers Mutual Assurance Company (FEM) has partnered with Habitat for Humanity South Africa (HFH SA) to customise 14 houses through construction and or renovation to accommodate homeowners with disabilities identified by FEM and situated in various locations throughout South Africa.


Situational Analysis:

In South Africa, less than half (45,2%) of households headed by persons with disabilities have access to a flush toilet facility and more than a third (37,1%) use pit toilets.[1] HFH SA believes that a decent home enables independent living for persons with disabilities. Most houses in South Africa are not designed to accommodate wheelchair users or the elderly. Homes therefore need to be modified or reconstructed according to accessible design solutions through architectural design or by integrating accessibility features.

“Accessibility is a basic human need and we all have a constitutional right and privilege to participate in all of life’s experiences in some unique way or another and should therefore have barrier free access to enjoy easier, friendlier and healthier environments.” – Igor G. Rix

Never before has it been safer to say that most of us are spending more time “sheltering in place” and this has increased the need to adjust the home of the disabled making it easier to get around and complete day-to-day tasks. Something as simple as entering and exiting your home, or going to the toilet, can become challenging if your home has not been custom fit for your specific needs. “Access” is typically defined within the limits of what a wheelchair bound person is able to reach with arm movement only, with minimal shifting of the legs and torso.[2]



In partnership with FEM, HFH SA has to date completed the modification of six homes with toilet facilities. Three of the six are briefly documented below:


1: Mr Njiyela 

Mr Njiyela had a vehicle accident while at work in 2006 that left him paralysed from the waist down and with very limited use of his hands. Mr Njiyela is completely dependent on his younger brother who takes care of him.

Mr Njiyela’s pit latrine was situated far away from his house and was installed below house-level making it inaccessible due to his disability. He was forced to resort to the undignified practice of using a bed pan. Mr Njiyela’s home was assessed and it was noted he had enough space available under his covered verandah to build a more suitably accessible toilet and wash basin. The modified facility also utilises the rainwater harvesting system that has been installed.


2: Mr Ngeleka 

Mr Ngeleka had an accident in 1986 while on a house build construction site. He suffered spinal cord injuries, had his right leg amputated and has had blood circulation problems as a result of the accident. Mr Ngeleka lives alone and is active in spite of his disabilities. He manages to keep a very neat garden!

Mr Ngeleka lives in a single room and had attempted to build his own toilet and bathroom out of sheer desperation. This proved impossible due to his physical disability and lack of assistance. Mr Ngeleka had to resort to using an old pit latrine outside his home.

Mr Ngeleka’s new ablution facility allows him to live independently with easier access to his toilet, shower and basin. A geyser brings him the comfort of warm water, whilst in the privacy of his new bathroom.


3: Mr Ngcungama 

Mr Ngcungama worked as a gardener at a golf estate. In 2007, the brakes failed on the tractor that he was driving, crashed and landed on top of him. He lost total use of his legs. In 2019, Mr Ngcungama suffered a stroke which resulted in the paralysis of his left hand. His four daughters moved to live closer to him and they take turns to care for him.

Mr Ngcungama’s family attempted to build a bathroom/toilet in his bedroom, but it had been placed in the wrong position, resulting in him having to use a bed pan. The structure needed to be demolished and rebuilt according to the required standards. The small step that was built to give him access to his house via the front door needed to be demolished and replaced with a more suitable and accessible ramp. Mr Ngungama’s quality of life has improved immensely due to these modifications; allowing him to move around more freely and making access in and around his home easier.


There are a further 11 beneficiaries identified by FEM in this project and HFH SA will continue to roll out the necessary modifications and house constructions together with its construction partner in the next few months.

[1] SERI. Sanitation for Women with Disabilities Living in Informal Settlements. 10 August 2018. Accessed: 20/07/2020. http://www.seri-sa.org/index.php/more-news/818-video-sanitation-for-women-with-disabilities-living-in-informal-settlements-10-august-2018

[2] Disability Info South Africa. Accessible Housing. 2016. Accessed: 20/07/2020.  http://disabilityinfosa.co.za/mobility-impairments/accessible-housing/