Forum: Feedback from wheelchair users is critical to improve accessibility

As a parent of a special needs son who has been using a wheelchair for the last 15 years, I read the article "Don't sideline access amid pandemic" (Sept 19) with interest.

The points raised were good, and I hope the article helps open up the conversation on accessibility beyond Building and Construction Authority (BCA) guidelines for universal design.

The current BCA code covers how facilities within a building should be designed.

However, there are four big challenges I have with the mobility of my son's wheelchair.

First, the common practice of placing waste bins below the lift panel. It can be impossible for a wheelchair user to reach the control panel with the bin in the way.

Second, the location of sensors for the automatic door closing function in lifts can vary. Some of the sensors are placed too high and do not detect wheelchair users. On some occasions, the doors close on wheelchair users who have not entered or exited the lift completely.

Third, able-bodied people who unnecessarily choose to take the lift instead of the escalator. This lack of empathy can be rectified with a national education campaign.

In Japan, there are lifts dedicated solely to wheelchair users during peak hours, and society has been schooled to ensure everyone plays his part. In Britain, toilets for people with disabilities are locked and accessible only with a special key that can be obtained by registered people with disabilities.

Fourth, while BCA has clear and measured guidelines within buildings for universal access to facilities, what is sadly lacking in the masterplan is barrier-free access from MRT stations to these buildings at street level.

We are not asking for covered walkways, just a barrier-free path for wheelchair users to get from building to building.

A ledge drop of several centimetres or the narrowing of paths to under 1m, especially those footpaths shared by pedestrians, prams, cyclists and wheelchair users, still plague many street-level choke points.

Repeated calls to the authorities have proved fruitless as no one agency seems to see it as its responsibility to plan, manage and maintain these links between buildings.

To raise awareness of lived problems and the need for solutions, feedback from actual users on the ground is critical.

Mark Fong Wei Tsong