Thursday February 28, 2013
Thumbs up to Singapore for disabled-friendly features
By ANTHONY THANASAYAN
The Lion City gets a roar of approval for its many disabled-friendly features.
IT is always very encouraging to note that disabled-friendly facilities are improving and expanding everywhere.
Environmentalist Jeffrey Phang, 57, who had just returned from a weekend in Singapore, was delighted to share with me his wheelchair-friendly encounters down south.
“It has been years since I last visited Singapore. On my recent trip there, I was hoping to get some ideas on how I could introduce more disabled-friendly features in the Kota Damansara community forest,” wrote Phang, who is co-chairman of environmental NGO, Friends of Kota Damansara.
“We initiated wheelchair-friendly designs in 2006 through a small grant. It included a special wheelchair accessible canopy with camping and barbecue facilities, and a sandpit where wheelchair-users can roll over and enjoy nature, too. The funds were used for some initial infrastructure groundwork for a wheelchair-friendly toilet and a pathway into the forest.”
Phang used his recent trip to Singapore as an unofficial “study trip” to see how it could help him integrate better access for the disabled and senior citizens, in the Kota Damansara community forest and elsewhere.
It was an eye-opening experience. His first stop was at a Mass Rapid Transit station in the island city.
“On approaching the station’s entrance, I saw a man on an electric wheelchair coming down a ramp and before I knew it, he had zoomed past me into the nearby supermarket.
“I was impressed at the way people with restricted physical conditions could move about with incredible speed in their powered wheelchairs,” said Phang, who is associate professor at Tunku Abdul Rahman University (UTAR) in Kajang, Selangor.
“The ticketing machines have buttons low enough for wheelchair passengers to reach without asking anyone for assistance. There is a special entrance lane for them that is wider and clearly marked with a wheelchair logo.
“The touch-screen system is a great help as users do not have to fumble about to get a slim card into a slot.”
Phang was pleased to see stainless steel guiding blocks built into the highly polished floor inside the building.
“It is a brilliant combination of aesthetic beauty and functionality for the sighted and the visually impaired.
“The guiding blocks lead all the way to a lift which is clearly marked for the elderly and the disabled. All other passengers have to use the escalators.”
Here are more of Phang’s observations:
> Low glass protective barriers at the entire length of the arrival platform of trains to prevent wheelchairs from accidentally falling onto tracks whilst waiting near the edge. The barriers are synchronised with the trains’ doors and open together.
> The gap between the train and the platform is hardly noticeable, providing smooth access for wheelchairs to get into the train. Inside, there are clear signs of all the train stops in green lighted circles, while the current stop is in red. Deaf passengers have LED displays with rolling messages that constantly keep them informed of audio announcements. Which door will open when the train arrives at each destination is clearly indicated with blinking lights. Blind passengers are guided by clear announcements.
> Seat rows are designed to accommodate wheelchairs.
> Toilets in VivoCity shopping complex have sliding doors with soft-touch electronic buttons at the right wheelchair users’ level, and a spacious layout with universal design specifications.
> Visitors with walking difficulties have various options at the Singapore Zoo. Young children who need a pushchair or elderly persons who cannot walk long distances, can hire a battery-driven vehicle. Even a physically disabled person can steer themselves around the zoo.
Phang said his trip made him realise how important it is for everyone to start including disabled-friendly features in the planning stage rather than later when it can be costly.
He pointed out that it is regretful that the people – the disabled, elderly and the poor – who need such facilities are the ones who do not get them.
“As for the Kota Damansara forest reserve, it’s time for everyone to realise that nature also belongs to the elderly and the disabled. We realised this when we brought the blind, wheelchair users and special needs children to the forest. A lot more needs to be done to make the forest accessible for everyone.
“In any case, in an aging society, more people will become disabled or less able. If we ignore the issue of accessibility today, we will reap the fruits of our apathy when we get locked out of society in our old age. We will only have ourselves to blame when that happens,” Phang concluded.