BCA's Masterplan key to accessibility improvements in Singapore

Thursday, 29 March 2012

- BCA to push Universal Design in the next phase of development towards a "City for all Ages"
- $40 million Accessibility Fund extended till 2017 for private building owners to upgrade their buildings with accessible features
- Accessibility Code Review to incorporate more mandatory Universal Design features

Singapore, 29 March 2012 - 1. Accessibility in Singapore's built environment has improved over the years. In response to the Committee on Ageing Issues' recommendations to tackle the ageing population, BCA developed its Accessibility Masterplan in 2006. Since then it has facilitated the following key improvements in the built environment:
. Close to 100% of public buildings that are frequented by general public are provided with at least basic accessibility. These include community clubs, government offices, hospitals / polyclinics, libraries, MRT stations, bus interchanges / terminals, sport facilities, market and food centres, etc.,
. 88% of buildings along Orchard Road are now provided with at least basic accessibility, from 41% in 2006.
. More than 2,000 buildings have at least basic accessibility features, and it is published on the Friendly Buildings Portal. (http://www.friendlybuildings.sg)

The first strategic thrust of the Master Plan is to improve the design of new buildings and infrastructure so that the built environment is seamlessly connected and accessible not only to wheelchair users but also the elderly, families with children and people with other disabilities. The mandatory requirement in the Accessibility Code, which was introduced in 1990, has led the way in achieving barrier-free accessibility in new buildings and those undergoing major addition and alteration works.

The Code was reviewed and enhanced thrice. It incorporates principles of Universal Design (UD), which takes into consideration of the physical, social and psychological needs of all possible users. UD features go beyond basic accessibility and include the provision of nursing rooms, smaller sized toilet facilities for children, ergonomic features such as rounded edges. In the current review to be completed end this year, BCA together with the key stakeholders such as developers, architects, relevant government agencies, along with volunteer welfare associations and educational institutions will consider the inclusion of some of these Universal Design features in the Accessibility Code. Specifically, the stakeholders include Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA), Real Estate Developers Association of Singapore (REDAS), Singapore Association for Occupational Therapists (SAOT), National University of Singapore (NUS) and voluntary welfare associations such as Handicaps Welfare Association (HWA), Disabled People's Association (DPA), Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH) and Singapore Action Group of Elders (SAGE).

The second strategic thrust focused on tackling future challenges in improving the accessibility of existing buildings built before 1990, as the mandatory requirements in the Accessibility Code do not apply retrospectively. Since upgrading to provide at least basic accessibility for pre-1990 buildings is on a voluntary basis, the challenge is to improve accessibility to these older buildings.

Since 2006, BCA has been working with other public agencies to put in place a medium term plan to upgrade their building stock. As of February 2012, almost all these public buildings frequented by the public have achieved at least basic accessibility. Examples of such buildings are community clubs, government offices, hospitals/polyclinics, libraries, MRT stations, bus interchanges/terminals, sport facilities, market and food centres, etc.

To incentivise the upgrading of existing private sector buildings, BCA introduced a 5-year $40 million Accessibility Fund (AF) which was set up to help defray the cost of upgrading. As of February 2012, 101 applications were approved. These include buildings like hotels, commercial and religious buildings.

To encourage more owners of existing private sector buildings to upgrade their buildings, BCA will be extending the Fund by another 5 years to March 2017. The fund co-pays up to 80% of the cost for providing basic accessibility features to existing private buildings (except landed residential properties), subject to a cap of $300,000 per project. BCA hopes that more building owners can benefit from the funding and consider coming on board to enhance the accessibility and user-friendliness of their buildings, which will eventually benefit users of these buildings and infrastructure.

The third thrust of the Masterplan sets out to ensure that accessible facilities provided are still available for their intended use and not removed or altered (e.g. using the toilet for wheelchair user for storage or converting accessible car parking lot to normal car parking lot).

Regulations are in place to ensure accessible facilities are maintained. To-date, BCA has sent out a number of advice notices to ensure continued compliance upon feedback by the public.

"The ageing issue is very real not only in Singapore but in other cities as well. Everyone has a role to play in a community, whether you an architect, developer, building owner, public agency or a member of the public, we have to put ourselves in the shoes of the elderly, persons with mobility challenge, children, etc., as we work towards a 'City for all ages'. We should for example refrain from carrying out inconsiderate acts such as locking or clamping bicycles along grip bars for the elderly or misusing toilets meant for wheelchair users. This will make a difference to the needy users and help create a friendly built environment," said Dr John Keung, CEO of BCA.

"I would also like to urge building owners to continue to consult BCA in their retrofitting efforts. We may not have the most ideal situation with the most accessible and the best Universal Design features now, as architects and building owners are also in the process of learning more about UD. However, we have witnessed more and more buildings and facilities provided with basic accessibility and more user-friendly features. All this would not have been possible without the stakeholder's collective effort to make the built environment a more accessible place. Thus, BCA will continue to knock on the doors of building owners who have yet to upgrade with basic accessibility. If funds are a concern, then we will extend the Accessibility Fund to them to help defray up to 80% of retrofitting costs".

BCA has convened a second meeting with the International Panel of Experts (IPE) on Universal Design from 28 to 30 March 2012, which brings experts from Japan, Spain, Norway, UK and USA, to share best practices on Universal Design from their respective countries.

Portable document format version of the media release is also available (53KB .pdf).

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