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Universal Design in Singapore

May 6, 2012

New buildings in Singapore will soon be required to go beyond creating a barrier-free environment, and be fitted with universal design features. This is aimed at making buildings more accessible and user-friendly for visitors of all ages and needs.

It started with ramps and barrier-free walkways for wheelchair users and the less mobile. Now, the Building and Construction Authority wants buildings to cater to the needs of all users. It is currently reviewing the accessibility code for new buildings and those undergoing major renovation works, to make it mandatory to include universal design features. This could include providing nursing rooms, family car park lots and wider corridors.

The review is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Many buildings now come equipped with handicapped toilets. Such toilets are retrofitted with grab bars and have enough space for a wheelchair. But it is not just what is inside that counts. Good design means that the entrance to the toilet should also be accessible, and even the location of the toilet is important. Professor Keith Bright, Emeritus Professor for Inclusive Environments at University of Reading, said: “Those are the next challenges for Singapore, not just to remove physical barriers, but…there are other factors that affect people’s lives. For example, if you have to get assistance wherever you go, it might be accessible, but it removes sometimes the dignity or the independence.”

Accessibility in buildings has improved over the years, following concerted efforts by the government to push for a barrier-free environment. Almost all public buildings now have an accessible entrance, easy-to-navigate first floor, and handicapped toilet on the first floor. And nearly nine in 10 buildings along Singapore’s premier shopping belt, Orchard Road, have achieved basic accessibility. But many existing private buildings remain a challenge for the less mobile. Private buildings owners cite high costs and disruption as key obstacles. Dr John Keung, CEO of the Building and Construction Authority, said: “We are talking to the industry, talking to building owners that while these are real concerns – cost and impact on operation – we also need to look from a longer-term perspective. If you make a building more accessible, it can also widen your catch of customers.”

To date, just S$6 million has been disbursed from the S$40 million Accessibility Fund, set up to help private building owners defray part of the cost. Another S$2.5 million worth of grants is being processed. The Accessibility Fund was started in 2007, and pays for up to 80 per cent of the cost for providing basic accessibility features to existing private buildings. The fund has now been extended till 2016, to encourage more private building owners to come on board. [From Rolling Rains Report]

 

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