Seniors who are wheelchair users can get ramps for multi-step HDB flat entrances in second half of the year

A lightweight and compact mechanical wheelchair lifter (left) and a portable ramp.
A lightweight and compact mechanical wheelchair lifter (left) and a portable ramp.PHOTOS: HDB

SINGAPORE - Seniors who are wheelchair users living in Housing Board flats with multi-step entrances can get ramps in the second half of the year to make their homes more accessible.

The costs of the ramps - which will be portable or customised fixed ones - are still being worked out, but the Government will foot up to 95 per cent of the bill.

Previously, only flats with a single step at their main entrance were eligible for subsidies for ramps fixed at the entrance, under the Enhancement for Active Seniors (Ease) programme by the HDB.

Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong made the announcement about the new ramps on Saturday (April 28).

He said: “For single-step (entrances), it’s easy, we already have a solution, but for the multi-step (entrances), it’s more difficult... because some of these spaces, there’s not a lot of access or corridor space.”

He added that ramps for these spaces are not readily commercially available, so the HDB worked with engineers over two years to come up with the designs.

Mr Wong was speaking on the sidelines of a visit to Tampines Changkat division in Tampines GRC. Mr Desmond Choo, adviser to Tampines Grassroots Organisations, hosted the visit.

A portable ramp is suitable for corner units or those with enough space at the entrance, while a customised fixed ramp can be used for corridor units with 1.2m clear width after installation.

Commercially, a portable ramp costs around $700 or less, while a customised fixed ramp costs around $1,600.

For flats which lack corridor space for ramps, HDB will be piloting the use of a lightweight and compact mechanical wheelchair lifter, also in the second half of the year.

HDB will evaluate later whether it will be offered as part of the Ease programme.

A customised fixed ramp. PHOTO: HDB

There are an estimated 170,000 flats with multi-step entrances. These flats were designed to offer residents, especially those living in units along common corridors, greater privacy and security, as their windows are raised above eye level.

Since a customised fixed ramp was installed at Ms Diana Norahman's flat entrance two weeks ago, moving her 71-year-old mother in and out of the home has become much easier.

"Before we had the ramp, I needed to have one wheelchair at the bottom of the stairs and another one inside the home, and my mother walked (up or down the stairs)," said Ms Diana, 50, who is a full-time caregiver for her mother.

However, her mother, who suffers from Parkinson's disease and has had knee replacement surgery, fell once and was afraid to leave the home. The ramp has helped her to regain her confidence, said Ms Diana.

The Ease programme offers subsidised elder-friendly home fittings, such as grab bars, slip-resistant treatment for floor tiles and ramps within the flat and at the entrance.

It is offered together with the Home Improvement Programme, which gives financial assistance to owners of ageing flats to fix common maintenance problems related to such flats.

Since Ease was launched in July 2012, close to 163,000 households have applied for it as of last month.

To qualify for direct application to Ease, Singaporean households must have an elderly family member who is 65 years old and above, or aged between 60 and 64 and requires assistance for at least one activity of daily living.

Seniors who use wheelchairs and live in flats for which neither ramps nor wheelchair lifters are feasible (generally ground-level flats with five to seven steps leading up to the flat) can approach HDB to explore alternative solutions.