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Access for disabled: Building authority working with malls

02 January 08 | The Straits Times
I REFER to the letter, 'Disabled access: Malls face Catch-22 situation', by Mr Joseph Chin (ST, Dec 25).

We agree that active cooperation with stakeholders, including mall operators, will enable us to build an environment accessible to all. It is one of the Building and Construction Authority's (BCA) strategic goals to foster a more inclusive society by creating a user-friendly built environment that caters to the needs of people of different ages and abilities.

BCA has mapped out a Barrier-Free Accessibility Masterplan to steer public- and private-sector buildings towards barrier-free accessibility. Last year, the new Code on Accessibility in the Built Environment was launched to put in place new requirements to improve interconnections between buildings and infrastructures.

To build a friendly, pro-family, disabled-enabling built environment, BCA promotes Universal Design (UD) principles among building owners by publishing UD guidebooks and organising talks. The BCA Universal Design Award was introduced last year to recognise buildings that demonstrate a high level of accessibility by adopting UD elements.

The greatest challenge is to get existing private buildings, especially those in the extensively built-up area of Orchard Road, to upgrade facilities to barrier-free accessibility standards. For this, the Government has set aside $40 million to co-fund voluntary upgrading on barrier-free accessibility.

Depending on private building owners' priorities and timing considerations, BCA recommends they upgrade barrier-free facilities fully and adopt UD in their design. Building owners who are not ready to undergo extensive retrofitting are encouraged to take the upgrading process step by step, by providing basic barrier-free access first. This ensures disruption is minimised.

In addition to making incentive funds available for upgrading work to provide barrier-free accessibility, BCA has met mall owners and operators to explore with them, individually, areas for improvement in accessibility on their properties and address concerns on hindrances. For example, where mall operators face inter-connectivity issues in upgrading works, BCA has formed an inter-agency coordination committee to smoothen and expedite the upgrading process to provide barrier-free accessibility between buildings and surrounding facilities.

Mall operators are encouraged to take a longer-term view of upgrading their facilities, which will enhance accessibility and hence attract more shoppers. BCA will continually strive to work closely with all building owners to enhance the barrier-free accessibility of our built environment.

Wong Wai Ching
Building Plan and Management Division
Building and Construction Authority