SINGAPORE - Boarding a bus during peak hours for wheelchair users can be tough, but help and guidance from fellow commuters can go a long way.
Tower Transit Singapore's inclusivity officer, Mr Kishon Chong, would know as he is a wheelchair user himself. The 29-year-old former chef had a spinal stroke in 2018 which left him paralysed from the waist down.
Now, he conducts courses with the bus operator to help instil confidence in those with disabilities, and to raise awareness among the public on how to improve their experience on public transport.
With a focus on students, the course, held in partnership with SG Enable and the Public Transport Council, aims to equip the public with skills to lend help to vulnerable commuters.
The inaugural session of the Public Bus Inclusivity Course, conducted at the Jurong East Bus Interchange on Saturday (April 24), was attended by three Primary 5 pupils and their parents.
Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Baey Yam Keng was also at the session.
The session kicked off with a disability awareness talk, followed by a hands-on session, where participants were asked to board the bus while seated in a wheelchair, and were also blindfolded to better understand the challenges faced by people with disabilities.
"Many people often see wheelchair users like myself but they may not know what they can do to help. Just ask, and that in itself can be enough to make someone's day," said Mr Chong.
He had also conducted a Public Bus Confidence Course on March 25, involving participants from disability support organisation SPD to help those with mobility challenges regain their confidence when commuting independently.
"People with disabilities are often very self-conscious, some of them avoiding public transport entirely out of fear or anxiety. I wanted them to know that they have the same rights as everyone else," he said.
While Singapore does not have a centralised database on persons with disabilities, the Ministry of Social and Family Development said in 2018 that the prevalence rate of those with disabilities is about 2.1 per cent of the student population, 3.4 per cent of the resident population for those aged 18 to 49, and 13.3 per cent of the resident population for those 50 years old and above.
Those with sensory (blindness and deafness) and physical disabilities constitute half of the disability group, it added.
To foster a caring and inclusive culture among the young, Tower Transit Singapore will continue working with Rulang Primary School for future sessions, and is also in talks with other schools in the region.
Eleven-year-old Reanne Leck, who attended the session with her mother, Ms Eleanor Tan, 42, found the session fun and informative.
Ms Tan, a financial planner, felt that the course was a good way to get younger children involved so that they know what they can do to help should they see anyone in need.
"One of my colleagues has muscular dystrophy, and she would often share about the challenges that she faces. Going for this course and educating the younger generation is one of the small ways we can help," she said.
Tower Transit Singapore is also making plans to launch a student co-host programme targeted at those in secondary school or older, where students can volunteer their time at the Jurong Bus Interchange and offer help to those in need.