Tap-in to use toilet for the disabled

One mall limits use to those with card access to curb abuse

The new system requires those who are disabled to tap their Cepas pass before they are granted access to the toilets for the disabled at Jurong Point.
The new system requires those who are disabled to tap their Cepas pass before they are granted access to the toilets for the disabled at Jurong Point. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Malls ‘will study card access system’

The misuse of toilets for the disabled in a suburban mall - including smoking and hogging by the able-bodied - has prompted its management to install a tap-in system so that only those with validated passes have access.

Jurong Point Shopping Centre started testing the new system - which requires users to tap their Contactless e-Purse Applications (Cepas) passes before entering - two weeks ago at one of its 10 toilets for the disabled.

The system will be rolled out across all 10 such toilets in three months' time, and cost a total of $100,000.

First-time users need to press a call button and will be instructed to tap their Cepas card on a sensor pad on the wall. Their particulars are recorded on a database so that just a tap is needed to use the mall's toilets for the disabled in the future.

To ensure that users are legitimate, mall management will check the user via closed-circuit television (CCTV) when the call button is pressed before granting access.

If a user has forgotten his card, he can press the call button to get buzzed in.

"Shoppers and the disabled gave us feedback that there is misuse of the toilets," said Jurong Point spokesman Camie Chua, who added that about 90 disabled people use the toilets for the disabled every month.

"Able-bodied people were using them and sometimes leaving the toilets in a mess. We hope this extra step will help cut down abuse," said Ms Chua. Several voluntary welfare organisations catering to those who are disabled are tenants at the mall. "We want to make these toilets available to those who really need them."

Last month, a 26-year-old man was charged with committing sex offences with underaged boys in different locations - one being in a toilet for the disabled in Jurong Point.

The misuse of public toilets for the disabled seems to be a perennial issue. Dr Marissa Medjeral-Mills, the executive director of The Disabled People's Association, said the association receives about three such complaints each month.

Grouses include the toilets being used by people with no mobility issues, used as storerooms, or even being locked. But when asked what she thought of Jurong Point's move, Dr Medjeral-Mills said: "It misses the point.

"It should still be about educating people on why disabled people need to use such toilets and encouraging them to decide against using them. It's not about locking the public out."

She suggested that Jurong Point's move be complemented with education to "help change behaviour over time".

When contacted, other mall managers said that they will study the new system.

Ms Stephanie Ho, Asia Malls' deputy chief executive, said: "It's proactive and it's good to learn from other players. We will see if we can adopt it."

However, Marina Centre Holdings' general manager, Ms Chan Yien Mei, said Marina Square is near hotels and attractions.

"We have a number of tourist visitors who do not have Cepas cards. Implementing such a system would not be user-friendly nor inclusive," she said.

Housewife Eileen Lee, 35, thinks the move is "over the top".

"I honestly think that there is no harm in using a toilet for the disabled if it is unoccupied and if you really need it," she said.

But Ms Karen Lim, 54, whose daughter has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, is in favour of the move.

"Sometimes, my daughter needs a toilet urgently, but the toilet for the disabled is occupied. When an able-bodied person comes out, I feel very angry," said the housewife. "But I am a bit worried that the system will not work properly. It has to be easy to use and convenient."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2015, with the headline 'Tap-in to use toilet for the disabled'. Print Edition | Subscribe