Elderly residents living in older Housing Board flats, who have to navigate multiple steps at the entrance to their homes, can soon get highly subsidised ramps that will make their lives easier.
From tomorrow, eligible residents can apply for the ramps. HDB will offer two types of ramps - portable and customised - under its Enhancement for Active Seniors (Ease) programme.
Previously, only flats with a single step at their main entrance were eligible for the subsidised ramps.
There are about 170,000 HDB flats with such multi-step entrances, a feature from some slab blocks built in the 1970s and 1980s to offer privacy from passers-by.
In a statement yesterday, HDB said the two new ramps are suitable for the majority of flats with multi-step entrances.
The portable ramps are suitable for flats with sufficient space at their entrance, such as units located at the end of a corridor. They can be dismantled when not in use.
The customised ramps, on the other hand, are fabricated according to a unit's entrance and available space, and are an option for flats located along the corridor.
Without subsidies, a portable ramp would cost $700 while a customised one would be $1,600.
Under Ease, the Government pays up to 95 per cent of the cost of the improvement items. This means the amount an eligible flat owner would pay for a ramp ranges from $35 to $200, depending on the flat type.
If he picks all the items offered under Ease - like grab bars or non-slip treatment on toilet tiles - the maximum amount ranges from $147 to $480.
Residents whose flats are undergoing the Home Improvement Programme (HIP) can opt for the items under Ease as well, while those without HIP can apply directly to HDB.
To be eligible, the flat owner must be a Singaporean, with at least one household member who is aged 65 years old and above and a wheelchair user, or is aged between 60 and 64 years old and requires help with daily activities such as bathing or feeding.
The HDB said that there would be some flats where ramps cannot be installed due to site constraints like the block layout or a lack of available corridor space.
To address such situations, the agency, with the help of private companies, has designed a lightweight and compact mechanical wheelchair lifter suitable for use in HDB estates.
Compared to ramps, it is more expensive and will require regular maintenance. HDB said it will offer the lifter in cases where ramps are not feasible under a separate pilot that is not part of the Ease programme. It costs $3,920, and the Government will subsidise half the cost for Singaporean households.
There is also an annual servicing fee of about $80, subject to change, which the flat owner must pay from the second year onwards.
The lifter has made a world of difference for retired administrative assistant Florence Tan, 67, a wheelchair user who contracted polio as a child, and was one of the first few to get such a machine.
Ms Tan, who is single and lives alone, said she was often so frustrated by the difficulty of getting into her three-room flat in Ang Mo Kio that she considered selling it.
But in 2015, a contractor and the HDB joined hands to install the lifter as part of a test bed for free, making access a breeze.
"I am so blessed," she said.
Close to 173,500 families have benefited from Ease since it was rolled out in 2012.
Despite the new solutions, there will still be some flats which cannot use them, the HDB said, adding that these are generally ground-level flats with five to seven steps leading up to the unit.
Seniors who use wheelchairs and live in such flats may approach HDB to explore alternative solutions, it said.