f Six Hundred & Fifty Six; Universal Design - do you know what this is about?


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Six Hundred & Fifty Six; Universal Design - do you know what this is about?

August 19, 2014 / ,

Today, I would like to share something I witnessed which was thought-provoking.

During one of my cafe-hunting trips, 
I spotted a passerby who stopped outside this particular café (that I was intending to enter) 
for a short while, before leaving eventually.

He was physically handicapped. 

The next thing I did was to take a look around the cafe:
Relatively small, packed with tables and chairs, and crowded with people. 
That was when I realized, there was no way that guy could have entered the cafe.
Not only was the high step at the door a hindrance, 
there was also no space for him to maneuver his wheelchair at all.

For a moment, I felt a little affected.

It never crossed my mind that while I am happily enjoying my cup of flat white in a cafe, 
there is actually a small group of people who are probably dreaming of doing the same thing too, 
but could not do so.

Then I started to think about the public places all around Singapore:
Fast-food restaurants, shopping centres, coffee shops, bus stops, etc.
I could think of so many places that were not accessible. 
That one or two steps that we effortlessly take and often do not even think much of 
could be a huge obstacle for the handicapped or the elderly.

Try this: 
Imagine yourself in a wheelchair, 
taking the exact same route that you take to work/school from home every single day.
Do you think you will be able to do it with ease?
Are there enough ramps, railings and elevators around to aid you?

Are the slopes gentle enough?
Will you be able to buy your meals at the hawker centres/kopitiams/shopping centres?
Even with a helper to push you around, 
do you think there is enough accessibility for you at these places?
Are the corridors wide enough for access?
Can you board the public bus or get into a taxi?
Do you think strangers will offer their help?

I tried visualising this scenario, 
and I could foresee so many obstacles in my journey from my home to say, the office.
That one step right outside my door would be the first obstacle to overcome.

That set me thinking.
How can we improve our environment to provide greater accessibility?
& more importantly, 
How can the designs of buildings be improved for everyone?

Besides the handicapped, there are other user groups to consider: 
the elderly, expectant mothers, the injured, kids, parents with kids, etc.

To share a more personal anecdote, I’d like to talk about my mother. 
My mum has had arthritis for more than 2 decades,
 and sometimes, boarding and alighting those buses with high steps 
can be a huge problem for her when she is alone. 
Also, those overhead bridges with no escalators? 
Those are Herculean tasks. 
She usually avoids them, but sometimes she has no choice. 
It really pains me when I see my mum take those steps painstakingly. 
Traffic lights that only allow a short walking time for pedestrians 
are also another problem for her because she is unable to walk as fast as a normal person. 
Although she is really independent, I worry about her all the time when she is out alone.

Universal Design
 "Universal Design is the design of products and environment to be usable by all people, 
to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialised design."
--Ronald Mace

To put it simply, it means "Design for Everyone".

These blocks on the path, which we often neglect,
serve as important guides for the visually-handicapped.

What I would like to highlight is that Universal Design is not merely about accessibility. 
These designs help individuals lead independent lives and empower them to carry on with their daily activities without feeling 'different' from others.

As what Prosessor Keith, 
Emeritus Professor for Inclusive Environments at University of Reading mentioned,
"Those are the next challenges for Singapore, not just to remove physical barriers, but... there are other factors that affect people's lives. For example, if you have to get assistance where you go, it might be accessible, but it removes sometimes the dignity or the independence."

I do agree that more actions have been taken to create a barrier-free environment in Singapore, 
but at the same time, I feel that much more can be done!

With the intention of spreading the message across the island to help different groups of people, 
and to create more awareness for Universal Design, 
the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) has come up with a competition 
for you to win some attractive prizes while doing your part in this campaign!

So long as you are 16-25 years old, 
and are currently studying in an educational institution in Singapore, 
you can take part in this!!
Submit a video on Universal Design, 
to stand to win $5,000 in cash prize!

1st prize: $5,000
2nd prize: $3,000
3rd prize: $2,000
Audience choice: $1,000

For more information on the competition, you may visit 

Last but not least, check out this video produced by The Hidden Good :)

I really hope to see more effort put into incorporating UD 
in our buildings and public areas in the near future. 
And I hope that more business owners will take into consideration 
the needs of these different groups of people, 
and create an inclusive environment for everyone. 

I, for one would definitely love to see more wheelchair-friendly cafes 
(are there any at the moment?) and restaurants in Singapore! :)

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