Tower Transit hires wheelchair user in role to promote inclusivity on public transport

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SINGAPORE - Wheelchair user Kishon Chong has been riding a lot of Tower Transit public buses lately.

On his trips, he pays attention to how the bus drivers interact with him and takes note of where accessibility can be improved for commuters. He then takes the feedback to Tower Transit trainers on how things can be changed to better help people with disabilities.

The 28-year-old, who was paralysed from the waist down after suffering a stroke in his spinal cord in 2018, is the first customer experience and inclusivity officer hired by a public transport operator, a move that the Public Transport Council is calling "historic".

Mr Chong, who takes a total of 32 trips a month, also speaks to commuters at the Jurong East bus interchange to get their feedback on public transport issues.

He said: "I will basically look at... the things (drivers) say, the tone they use, whether the techniques they apply are in line with their training.

"There are a few times when it is not as ideal, but we will bring it up and work with the individual departments to advise the bus captains to build a higher level of empathy."

For example, a driver might show frustration in his tone while lowering the ramp for a wheelchair user to board the bus. This could deter a commuter from taking buses.

Mr Chong said: "The biggest hurdle for a person with disabilities is self-confidence, with concerns about what people think, and whether they are holding up the line.

"If the bus captains are proactive and welcoming, they can eliminate a lot of these concerns."

Mr Kishon Chong is the first customer experience and inclusivity officer hired by a public transport operator. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

He applied for the role in April after his job coach at social service agency SPD saw an advertisement for the post. The job sounded interesting, as it would let him help others with disabilities.

It would also be his first job after he lost the use of his legs. He was formerly a chef specialising in modern Singaporean cuisine at a restaurant.

"I was just preparing for work one day, and then suddenly, during a half-hour period, I lost strength in my legs," he said.

He has been undergoing physiotherapy for the past two years.

Tower Transit managing director Winston Toh said that beyond improving accessibility for commuters, Mr Chong's role also enables the firm to be more sensitive to things it might have overlooked.

Mr Richard Magnus, chairman of the Public Transport Council, said: "This is a historic change.

"With the support of our public transport operators, we can continue to transform Singapore's public transport system into a more caring, welcoming and inclusive one."

Public transport operators SMRT, Go-Ahead Singapore and SBS Transit said they are committed to ensuring a smooth journey for all commuters, and have trained staff to properly help people with disabilities.

SMRT chief communications officer Margaret Teo said more than 2,000 staff members have gone through extensive inclusive service training.

SBS senior vice-president for corporate communications Tammy Tan said its staff had undergone experiential learning conducted by SG Enable so that they can better appreciate the difficulties encountered by commuters who need extra assistance.

Mr Chong also hopes to help reverse stereotypes of people with disabilities. In his customer service role, there had been occasions when commuters thought he needed help. Some even offered him money.

"Instead of the stereotype that a person in a wheelchair always needs the help of others, we've flipped that around to show that a person in a wheelchair can help other commuters," he said.

"The more people learn... the more open they will be to the idea of having more people with disabilities integrate into society, without feeling like they are there to ask for something."

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