Wednesday 18 January 2012

HDB working on affordable ramps for residents

Scheme will benefit elderly, disabled with steps at flat entrance
By Daryl Chin, The Straits Times, 17 Jan 2012

WHEELCHAIR-BOUND Chia Boon Hock has no problems getting around his estate. There is a gentle slope at a carpark and a winding ramp at a nearby hawker centre.

But it is a different matter when it comes to getting in and out of his flat.

When the 84-year-old heads out twice a day in the morning and afternoon, he needs help from two or three people to navigate the three steps outside his Ang Mo Kio flat.

'It takes a while sometimes to help him out of the house but it's better than letting him get cooped up inside,' said his son Chia Eng Huat, 53, who is unemployed. He visits his parents on weekends.

Steps are being taken to help people like the senior Mr Chia.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Mohamad Maliki Osman said on Jan 9 in Parliament that the Housing Board is working to help the elderly and disabled by possibly replacing steps with ramps.

About 75,000 flats with steps at the entrance exist in places like Ang Mo Kio, Yishun, Tampines, Jurong and Bukit Batok.

The design of these units, built in the mid-1970s to mid-1980s, was meant to provide greater privacy for residents sited along common corridors and on ground floors - by limiting the passer-by's view of the interior.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, a spokesman for the Ministry of National Development (MND) said on Sunday that the Housing Board is working with industry partners to 'customise more affordable solutions' to suit various types of flats with steps at the entrance.

The Housing Board will carry out a pilot implementation to assess the effectiveness and receptiveness by residents.

'Once successful, these solutions can be made easily available and those in need can acquire them,' the spokesman added.

Residents using wheelchairs have found that the steps can be a great hindrance to movements.

To go for a doctor's appointment, for example, retiree Lauw Xiao Ching, 70, has to leave her house in Tampines half an hour earlier.

She had to rely on a wheelchair after she suffered a fall last month. 'The helper takes about 10 minutes to carry me out on her own, and after that, we need to get into a taxi. It's so inconvenient,' she said.

Necessity has prompted a few households in Ang Mo Kio, for instance, to install homemade ramps made of wood.

For those who are willing to pay, a number of removable ramps are on sale or a contractor could help to fabricate a custom-made one.

Access & Mobility Solutions general manager Eric Tan said he is getting more requests for ramps, especially in older estates. 'The elderly or disabled usually need the ramps to go over steps or within the house if there are small barriers,' he noted.

The cost can range from $100 for a simple wooden ramp to $3,000 for one made of fibreglass that has better-quality finishes and greater durability.

For custom-made ramps which are permanently fixed, residents have to engage a contractor. The Housing Board's approval is required to ensure the design of the ramp does not obstruct walking access in the corridor.

According to the MND spokesman, there were 10 applications to put up custom-made ramps over the past five years.

The younger Mr Chia said he will be glad if the Housing Board arrives at a cost-effective solution. 'It will be good if it's cheap and even better if it's free,' he added.

But not all the residents welcome a new addition to the walkways.

Advertising executive Nadia Rahmat, 29, said: 'The corridors are already cluttered enough. Perhaps the solution is a ramp that can turn sideways and not obstruct the way.'

Since July 2006, all new Housing Board flats have been built based on a universal design. This means it has to be suitable for everyone, regardless of age or physical condition.

Under a Lift Upgrading Programme launched in 2001 and expected to be completed by 2014, lifts will stop at every floor in all eligible Housing Board blocks where a majority of residents have voted for it.

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