Paving the way for more inclusive buildings

New rule requires buildings like malls to add accessibility features when doing alteration works

Based on the new rule, buildings will have to make their entrances barrier-free with either a ramp, stair-lift or platform lift, and provide at least one accessible toilet. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Starting next year, buildings such as schools and malls must include two basic accessibility features if they are undergoing any additions and alterations (A&A).

The new rule applies to commercial and institutional buildings such as offices and schools. When these undergo any A&A works, they will also have to make their entrances barrier-free with either a ramp, stair-lift or platform lift, and provide at least one accessible toilet.

Currently, if a building undergoes A&A works on a certain floor, that floor must be made accessible in accordance with building codes - but this does not affect other floors.

Under the new rule, the building owner would need to add an accessible building entrance and one accessible toilet.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong announced this and other measures to promote user-friendly design at the opening of this year's Singapore Universal Design Week yesterday.

A new Universal Design Guide for Public Places was also launched as a reference for possible features.

"It's about being inclusive and embracing the needs of everyone in society," said Mr Wong. Newer buildings have incorporated universal design - designing for the needs of all - but there are still older buildings which are not accessible, he noted.

Legislation to make buildings barrier-free was introduced in 1990 but applies only to new buildings.

Noting that one in four existing commercial and institutional buildings is still not accessible, he said: "We need to accelerate the progress of our accessibility improvements."

Building and Construction Authority (BCA) acting deputy chief executive officer Chin Chi Leong said business areas such as Shenton Way would be one focus.

The BCA will further consult stakeholders before the new rule kicks in some time next year. The exact date has yet to be announced.

Mr Wong also announced other moves to encourage accessibility.

The BCA will extend its Accessibility Fund for another five years to March 2022. This covers up to 80 per cent of the cost of basic accessibility features and 40 per cent for additional features.

The fund will now cover more features such as braille signage, and building owners can now tap it twice instead of once. As of last month, only $14 million of the $40 million fund had been used.

Later this year, a new award will be introduced under an existing certification scheme. The BCA is working with the Ministry of Social and Family Development for this new BCA-MSF Universal Design Mark for Family-Friendly Businesses, which looks at not just facilities but also business and service aspects.

To raise awareness of universal design, a BCA exhibition will tour heartland areas in the coming months, and a special vehicle will visit over 120 primary schools this year.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2016, with the headline Paving the way for more inclusive buildings. Subscribe