New handicap parking lot policy to be flexible, will look at needs beyond mobility aids: MSF

Under the new criteria, only people with disabilities who use wheelchair, walking frames or lower-limb prostheses will be eligible for the Car Park Label Scheme.
Under the new criteria, only people with disabilities who use wheelchair, walking frames or lower-limb prostheses will be eligible for the Car Park Label Scheme.PHOTO: ST FILE

Struck by a tumour at age 22, Mr Kalai Vanen lost his left leg. To get around, he uses elbow crutches.

He was thus dismayed by new tighter rules announced last week over who can use car park lots for the handicapped.

Under the criteria which take effect on Nov 1, only people with disabilities and who use wheelchairs, walking frames or lower-limb prostheses can park at the lots. Previously, those using quadsticks and crutches were also included.

On Thursday night, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) clarified that it would be flexible in deciding whether those with disabilities are entitled to park at accessible lots - whatever aids they use.

"Those with medical conditions such as muscular dystrophy, poliomyelitis and cerebral palsy would be considered for eligibility for car park labels based on their condition and needs, beyond just the type of mobility aids used," it said on its Facebook page on Thursday night.

In a statement later, it added: "MSF is also prepared to consider any deserving cases who may require the... label given their condition, even if they do not fully meet the default eligibility criteria."

This came after some apprehension in the community over the tighter criteria.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday night that was widely shared, Mr Kalai, 58, said that he prefers using elbow crutches but that MSF's new move meant that he would have to use a walking frame in order to get the car park label.

"Neither walking aid would allow me to walk and hold an umbrella if it rains nor would they be of any help if I had to carry a bag or two and having to manoeuvre walking around a parking lot," said the personal trainer. "As strong as I am, walking is not easy."

MSF said on Thursday night that Mr Kalai would get the car park label because of his condition. Mr Kalai suffers the loss of a lower limb, which falls under the conditions considered.

Groups for the disabled told The Straits Times the new rule had sparked anxiety. President of Handicaps Welfare Association Wan Fook Wing said: "Many people got anxious and wondered if they would be denied a label when they heard the announcement. Some of my clients were upset and asked me what would happen because they really need the lots."

Explaining the move to tighten the criteria, MSF noted a rising demand for accessible lots - which will accelerate as the population ages. The number of new car park label holders increased almost 40 per cent from 1,273 in 2012 to 1,758 last year.

"We have been setting aside more accessible lots in areas of high demand where feasible," said the ministry. It also had been providing more accessible pick-up and drop-off points.

But, it added, "given our physical constraints, there is a limit to how many more accessible lots we can have".

After consultations with the community, MSF said, "there was general agreement that we should reserve the accessible lots for persons with disabilities who require the additional space to board and alight from their vehicles and are therefore more in need of such lots".

Dr Marissa Medjeral-Mills, executive director at Disabled People's Association, said she understands the rationale for the move.

"We know that there has been competition for lots, and people have given feedback that labels were given away too easily, so it has to be given to someone who needs it more than others."

But, she said, there should have been "wider consultation". "We received calls from people who were surprised and didn't understand why. There is the perception that they might lose their labels even if they are not going to be affected in reality."

On the ministry's latest clarification, Mr Kalai said: "It's good to know they have done this so the right people who need it can benefit from the labels."