Singapore’s streets are relatively easy to walk on and provide useful paths in getting us to our destination for most of us, something that we should be thankful for.
With sufficient pavements and even underground passages that cut through roads, the accessibility of the places in Singapore seems to be rather easy.
However, it may be a feat sometimes for people with disabilities to find an accessible route in which they can safely get to their destination with utmost convenience.
The lack of security of there being an accessible route may even deter those with disabilities from going to social events or other events.
Change is needed – and thankfully, change just might be coming.
New Accessibility Map
In order to help the disabled find accessible routes in the CBD area of Singapore with more ease, a group of 25 Singapore Polytechnic students in the Landscape Architecture diploma course is developing a new project for one of their Universal Design modules.
They will be creating a map of an accessibility overview in the CBD area, hoping that it would make it easier for the disabled to get around the busy area.
From April to May 2019, the students have been working tirelessly on the project, including conducting conducive research and collecting data onsite, spending six weeks mapping barrier-free routes that people with disabilities are able to access in the CBD area.
In case you were unaware, the Building and Construction Authority in Singapore actually requires accessibility to be built into building designs under the Code of Accessibility.
Although there are already accessible routes at mostly every public building and infrastructures such as MRT stations, these may be blocked when temporary road works or construction work are ongoing and would make it hard for the disabled to go on their way.
That’s why this new map will come in handy for them.
Mr Richard Kuppusamy, the president of the Disabled People’s Association, said that when it comes to getting a job or taking one up, accessibility is still a point of consideration for the disabled despite the accessible features in most buildings and the initiatives.
He also highlighted the different problems and considerations that people who are disabled have in the workplace, saying: “It comes down to the basics. Getting in the front door is one thing but you know, it’s things like, is there an accessible toilet in the office building? People are a bit embarrassed to ask… And where do I go for lunch? You know, everyone else is going to a particular eatery down the road, can I join them?”
About 0.55% of the resident labour force in Singapore is actually disabled, and thus they still need better accessible routes especially in the busy CBD area, which held 356,000 workers back in 2013. Having lunch with colleagues as a form of socialising may not be as easy for them, who need to consider if they can even make it to the lunch place.
Knowing this is a real problem, the students have stepped up in their efforts to take one more step towards a truly inclusive society.
To further solidify the planned map, the group of students joined BNP Paribas Securities Services, who are funding the project, and the Disabled People’s Association (DPA) in a mapping exercise in the Raffles Place area to find features that the disabled may need in their travelling route.
They took photos of the various accessibility features, GPS location points and things that may affect accessibility and logged it in an app where they can use it for future reference in the planning process.
Mr Desmond Lee, The Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development, attended and participated in the mapping exercise too. “It is not only the built environment that we need to keep working at, but it is also how we work together on improvements,” he said, adding that despite the efforts so far, but there is also still a lot to be done.
Important First Step
Mr Kuppusamy showed his satisfaction regarding the mapping exercise, saying it was an important first step for the community and that this would build a coalition of being willing to admit what the problems are.
“This was the first time we’ve really been able to get a business stakeholder to champion this with us, to be able to get a ministry, a government agency, a commitment from the minister to pull government agencies, the relevant government agencies… because it is only a cross-agency work that is going to solve this… And to be able to get everyone to just say yes, we’re willing to come on board, we’re willing to learn and listen is huge,” he said.
BNP Paribas Securities Services Southeast Asia’s chief executive officer Ms Diana Senanayake revealed the reason why the company decided to jump onboard this initiative, saying that there was a “local need” as highlighted by their employees. Even their own office building could take more than an hour for disabled visitors to get to, what with road works and a lack of alternative routes.
What Can Be Improved?
The students found that there could be more routes which aren’t blocked by barriers, as well as more controlled crossings to ensure that those with visual impairments can cross the road safely. When the usually accessible routes are blocked due to road works, there should also be signs pointing to barrier-free routes.
Mr Kuppusamy said that the findings led to further emphasis on how there may only be one accessible route for the disabled, yet everyone else has the freedom to go everywhere, and this imbalance needs to be changed.
He said: “So rather than people going, ‘I’m specifically making an accessible route’, we want everyone to be ‘everything is accessible’… there isn’t a need for me to tell you which way to go because you should be able to go where everyone else goes’. That’s I guess the gold standard of equality that we would like to see in the built environment. And that is how we’re going to get social inclusion.”
The map will be proposed to the authorities nearing the end of the year, and they are hoping to make some real changes to the CBD area.
Kudos to the students and everyone involved in the project for slowly working towards a more inclusive Singapore!