Mr Cedric Foo Chee Keng
MP for West Coast GRC, and
Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport
Ms Debra Soon, Group General Manager, Group Corporate Communications and Investor Relations,
WBL Corporation Limited
Ladies and gentlemen
1. Welcome to the Wheelchair Enabler Invention Competition prize giving ceremony. We would like to thank Mr Cedric Foo, Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport and MP for West Coast GRC, for taking time off his busy schedule to attend this ceremony. Your presence here, Sir, is significant as it reaffirms that the GPC for Transport has not forgotten the need to provide accessible transport for the elderly and people with disabilities, and its challenges.
2 Today, we would like to recognise the participants of the Wheelchair Enabler Invention Competition, and also to reward the winners. This competition is made possible by the help given to us by our sponsors and supporters. Firstly, we would like to thank WBL Corporation (or “”Wearnes””), whom besides being the main sponsor for this event, has also supported SPD in our provision of assistive technology and children & youth services. We certainly want to say a big “”thank you”” to Wearnes.
3 Secondly, we would like to thank ComfortDelgro and SBS Transit Ltd for supporting the competition, and for allowing us to have today’s ceremony at this bus interchange. We are also delighted to receive the support of the Ministry of Community Development, Youth & Sports, National Council of Social Service, Land Transport Authority and Ministry of Transport.
Wheelchair Enablers as Practical Solutions for Greater Accessibility
4 Some people may question the need for such a competition and its narrow focus. It was indeed a risk for us to organise the competition this way. However we did so with a clear reason and with clear objectives.
5 There are currently a lot of efforts being made to make buildings and transport accessible in Singapore. As part of the disabled community, we are certainly very encouraged by all the positive developments. SPD itself has lent its support and is heavily involved in the various committees working on such projects.
6 Unfortunately several of the efforts being made now for greater accessibility are really an afterthought – a modification. These signify our trying to make things right, rather than doing the right things from the start. Many of these do not provide efficient and effective functional solutions.
7 Allow me to cite two examples: Today we see ramps and underpasses being created for greater accessibility in our physical environment. Many are not necessarily designed and made with the users in mind, but are instead done from the point of the environment. At the end of such projects, you have places installed with features that allow for accessibility, yet are still largely inaccessible to wheelchair users. To illustrate further, you may end up having a ramp that is located at one end, with several layers and a formidable steep slope; wheelchair users grapple with having to use a lot of strength going up, while having to be careful that they don’t roll backwards or slip down the slope. Conventional wheelchairs are not built with the capability to overcome such conditions. It is clear that we need solutions that will enable wheelchair users to overcome such environmental barriers.
8 Another example is the wheelchair accessible bus. SPD did a survey among our more mobile workers with disabilities. Close to 40% of them have already used the WAB and the rest are eager to get on in the coming months. This is a significant number given the few WAB bus routes. Among those who have used the WAB, 90% find it helpful and convenient. They want WAB buses that ply more routes, and with more wheelchair spaces on each bus. They are particularly grateful to the bus captains who make the laborious effort of ensuring the smooth passage of wheelchair-using passengers to wheelchair spaces and helping them pay their bus fare at the front of the bus. We are very happy to hear that SBS Transit has taken into consideration the feedback wheelchair users have given, and are including 100 new single deck buses to their fleet that are elderly and wheelchair friendly, and come with designated areas for two wheelchairs. We look forward to seeing them on our roads in November.
9 In another survey carried out by LTA and published in Today on 5 April, commuters in Singapore registered a 77% satisfactory rate for our buses here, and more importantly, only 60% are satisfied with the waiting time. With more WABs on the road in time to come, and an increase in wheelchair-using commuters, we can expect more time taken for boarding and alighting at the current mode of operations. One wonders how the public transport service provider would cope and what the effect would be on the overall commuter satisfaction rate then.
10 It is therefore clear that we need to do two things: Firstly, we need to learn from and review accessibility features in the current infrastructure, and to find simple and cheap solutions for wheelchair users to overcome current environmental barriers. Specifically for the WAB, we would like to appeal to the government and bus operators to continue reviewing the current mode of operations, and to find improvements so as to ensure quicker access to buses while at the same time ensuring universal access so that more wheelchair users and other special needs users, including families with prams, are not excluded from using our public buses. Such an effort would not only help users with special needs, it would also benefit the public at large.
11 Secondly, there is a need to review how WAB routes are selected. It is appropriate that the authorities are introducing WABs on routes that cover essential services for disabled people, but it would be more practical to provide a mode of transport for special needs users from towns and estates to MRT/LRT stations that are already accessible. Instead of buses, there could even be a special transport available for booking at an affordable price to bring such passengers to the train stations to augment the WAB routes. We look towards our Guest-of-Honour Mr Cedric Foo to help us engage the government further so that we can move this accessible transport policy beyond the current approach.
12 The Wheelchair Enabler Invention Competition serves as a platform from which we can find solutions that will provide safe mobility for wheelchair users, enable them to cross gaps or overcome slopes between bus stops and buses, mount kerbs as well as have cheaper versions of powered mobility.
13 We are delighted to see more academic institutions like the ITEs, polytechnics and universities taking on projects to development assistive technology. We urge all of them to continue in their efforts and to join us in developing wheelchair enablers in aid of wheelchair users.
14 Once again, we would like to thank all the participants, our sponsors and supporters. We would also like to thank Mr Cedric Foo for his presence here and look forward to receiving MOT’s and LTA’s continuing support to ensure that our transport policies are regularly updated and reviewed and aligned with the needs of the disabled community. Today’s ceremony is not an end in itself, but rather signifies a start of the movement to develop wheelchair enablers, a movement we hope everyone would not only support but also participate in, so that we can build a Singapore where people with disabilities are a part, rather than apart from society.