Wednesday, 21 November 2012

All HDB estates now barrier-free

Accessibility improved for the elderly and disabled under $23m programme
By Daryl Chin, The Straits Times, 20 Nov 2012

AFTER more than five years of toil, the Housing Board (HDB) has made all public housing estates barrier-free.

The $23 million programme brought ramps and handrails to nearly 7,800 older HDB blocks, to give the elderly and physically disabled greater ease in moving about their neighbourhoods.

It also reduced the number of steps in the estates while improving the links between housing blocks and key facilities such as markets and MRT stations.

The master plan for these features is drawn up by each area's town council, which takes into account feedback from grassroots organisations and residents.

Newer HDB estates came with such facilities already incorporated into the design.

Commenting on the programme's completion, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan wrote on his Housing Matters blog yesterday that such improvements were important to Singapore as it prepares for an ageing population.

One in five Singaporeans will be older than 65 by 2030.

But the scheme also benefits others, such as parents with baby strollers and housewives returning home from the market, he added.

The journey was not without obstacles, however. "Some estates have challenging terrains such as steep slopes, which made it harder to build ramps. But through innovative designs and public feedback, HDB and the town councils have overcome these constraints," Mr Khaw said.

For instance, planners introduced a ramp with more turns on a steep slope in a tight space, to ensure the incline is gradual and less strenuous for users.

Yesterday, MPs and residents cheered the scheme but noted that the facilities were occasionally abused. Both Ms Lee Bee Wah, MP for Nee Soon GRC, and Dr Lily Neo, MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, have received complaints that cyclists and delivery riders on motorcycles were using the ramps, posing a danger to the elderly and handicapped.

Said Ms Lee: "The idea behind the programme is good, especially for the wheelchair-bound, but our society needs to be more gracious about using it."

The executive director of the Disabled People's Association, Ms Marissa Medjeral, also gave HDB a pat on the back for the facilities but added that there is room for improvement.

Her suggestions include having tactile tile paths and Braille signs for the visually impaired.

"We hope HDB can build on what has been achieved as an ongoing project to improve the lives of people with disabilities," she said.

Ang Mo Kio resident Neo Yau Kim, 78, finds the changes, especially the handrails, most useful. Said the housewife in Mandarin: "Having something to hold on to makes it much easier for me to get about every day, even as my body becomes weaker with time."

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