Sunday 1 September 2013

Family-friendly features a must for new buildings

New rules effective next April include provisions for the elderly, disabled
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 31 Aug 2013

FAMILY-FRIENDLY features, from nursing rooms to upsized parking spaces, will become a must from next April for all new buildings frequented by families.

These buildings include large shopping malls, community clubs and sports complexes.

This is part of a slew of regulations, which also include enhanced provisions for the elderly and the disabled, announced by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) yesterday.

The roll-out is part of a new Code on Accessibility for the Built Environment, which was last updated in 2007 and will be in force from April 1 next year. This code sets down rules to ensure buildings and public spaces meet a minimum standard of accessibility.

For the elderly, buildings are required to make sure that one in five toilets, up from just one in each building, is "ambulant- disabled". Such toilets include features like grab bars that the elderly can use for support.

Rest areas with seats must also be provided for every 50m stretch in public areas such as transport stations and passenger terminals.

To provide easier access for wheelchair users, corridors in new projects now have to be at least 1.5m wide, up from the current 1.2m standard.

This will allow a person to stand alongside a wheelchair.

Life will also be made easier for the hearing and visually impaired.

Hearing enhancement devices, which send out a signal that hearing aid users can tune into, will have to be installed in at least one area of function rooms, halls and auditoriums.

This device will allow a person to hear, without interference from background noise.

For the visually impaired, buildings will have to use different flooring materials as a walking guide.

For instance, using a line of tiles on a carpeted floor can indicate where a person should walk.

The use of tactile surfaces, or a piece of floor with raised bumps, will be limited to danger areas like kerbs and road crossings. This is to cut the risk of tripping over the bumps.

BCA's revision to the code, which was first launched in 1990, followed a month-long consultation in April this year with members of the public.

"Accessibility is a big part of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, so this is a welcome move," said Mr Edmund Wan, president of the Handicaps Welfare Association, on the changes.

People's Association Active Ageing Council chairman Tan Yong Seng added: "Many seniors are afraid of stepping out of their houses due to their fear of falling.

"With more elder-friendly facilities like toilets with grab bars and resting spots, seniors will feel more confident to be involved in community programmes."

Madam Patricia Tan, a 75- year-old retiree, agreed: "Putting more chairs in public areas is essential as the elderly cannot walk for too long. These new initiatives will definitely encourage the elderly to go out more."

Senior sales analyst Stephanie Yap, who has a four-month-old daughter, said the nursing room requirement was a long-awaited one.

"Usually, I have to wait about 15 minutes just to change a diaper, which is frustrating with the baby crying, so I try to minimise our outings."

Five main groups stand to benefit


Where: Public buildings such as large malls

What: Child-friendly facilities, easily accessible nursing rooms and designated family parking spaces


Where: Public buildings and spaces

What: Resting areas with seats, every 50m. One in five toilets to have grab bars


Where: Hazardous areas such as road crossings and staircases

What: Tactile warnings and Braille on signs


Where: Function rooms, halls and auditoriums

What: Audio systems that cut background noise


Where: Residential buildings, schools and other public areas

What: Wider corridors allowing wheelchairs to pass with a person alongside

Is that a mall or obstacle course for the elderly?
By Loh Keng Fatt, The Sunday Times, 15 Sep 2013

When my 80-year-old mother recently broke her arm after a fall, she could not move freely and was paranoid about falling again - even at home.

But two weeks after the incident and bored with being cooped up at home, she felt ready to resume her normal activities, including visiting shopping malls.

Although the cast was off, she still could not do much with her left arm and her walking speed was half what it used to be because she had also hurt her hips in the fall.

And that's when we realised how some malls can be so user- unfriendly for senior citizens.

So it is heartening that the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) has stipulated that new buildings frequented by families - such as malls, sports complexes and community clubs - must be more user -friendly from next April.

The move is timely given the ageing population. From 2000 to 2010, the number of residents aged 65 and above expanded by 49 per cent. This group is projected to climb a staggering 74 per cent between 2010 and 2020.

So it makes good sense - both social and business - to cater to what these folks need.

As People's Association Active Ageing Council chairman Tan Yong Seng noted, many seniors fear stepping out of their homes because of the fear of falling.

Based on my experiences visiting malls with my mother recently, some design features are unsuited to older folk - even those in reasonably good health.

For example, toilets and lifts are often tucked away in remote corners or at the end of corridors. While the young may not break a sweat in tracking down these facilities, the task can be arduous for the elderly.

Not everyone can use steep staircases or fast-moving escalators with ease and confidence either.

My mum, like many other elderly people, did not dare to use the escalators, which meant we had to take the lift. But the few lifts were often sited in obscure corners, requiring long walks and asking people how to get to them.

Also, should there be a law curtailing the use of open spaces to pack in yet more tenants or hold events, because that makes it tough for people in wheelchairs or using walking aids to move about freely amid the able-bodied crush?

And if you're visiting with a slow-moving elderly person, you have to wonder why mall owners cannot provide seats in corridors or open spaces to let people take five.

My recent experiences with my mum tell me that Singapore may be a great place for shopping, but its malls have some way to go in providing basic services to those who need them.

So the BCA's new moves - part of a new Code on Accessibility for the Built Environment - should bring relief. Among other things, it requires one in five toilets in a building to have features such as grab bars which the elderly can use for support. The rule now is just one such toilet in the building.

Corridors in new buildings must also be at least 1.5m wide, up from the current 1.2m, to give wheelchair users more room.

While the new rules do not apply to existing buildings, one hopes that owners of existing malls take the ageing issue into account when they upgrade, to make shopping more inclusive and enjoyable for everyone.

It is all well and good to have eco-compliant features, nice decor and greenery, but malls should also ramp up a more secure and comfortable shopping experience for older visitors.

The investment will pay off as the rising number of old folk include more who have substantial spending power.

For now, my mum has decided to curtail her visits to bigger malls and opt for outings within the neighbourhood.

"So what if the kopitiam is not air-conditioned? At least I don't have to hunt for a lift or walk a long distance to get to the toilet," she says.

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