When it comes to civic amenities for individuals, there is no “one size fits all” or perhaps “one size fits one.” Everyone is born with different abilities and limitations, and they go about their day-to-day lives with different levels of understanding, sentiments and circumstances that allow a uniquely human interpretation of the world around us. Understanding this diversity is a natural element of the human experience helps us to realize the importance of Universal Design.
Universal design is a way of designing physical and virtual spaces, products and services, to address the inherent diversity of people. It introduces choice, flexibility and accommodating features to the world that we live in.
Lessons from Singapore
Singapore established a dense, high-rise building for the living environment along with its rapid urbanization from the 1950s to 1980s. The focus was on maximizing land resources for the economic and social needs of a growing population, as the majority of the population were young and able.
In the year 1990, the Code on Barrier-Free Accessibility in Buildings was introduced to improve accessibility standards, especially for wheelchair users and people with physical limitations. The design and construction requirements were made mandatory for all new building projects.
It was only in 2006 when the senior citizens were recorded more in numbers with deteriorating physical abilities. The idea of cultivating an inclusive built environment that supported “ageing-in-place “came into existence.
The Building Construction Authority (BCA) has fused the concept of universal design, or “design for all,” into its mission so that the authority can address the needs of people of all ages and abilities. However, one of the key challenges was to upgrade the large existing stock of buildings built before 1990.
The Building and Construction Authority (BCA)
The BCA is a legal entity under the Ministry of National Development of the Singapore Government. The board was set-up in 1999 by joining the Construction Industry Development Board and the Building Control Division of the former Public Works Department.
BCA’s Masterplan key to accessibility improvements in Singapore
BCA developed its Accessibility Masterplan in 2006. Since then it has facilitated the following key improvements.
· The first strategic phase of the Master Plan was to advance the design of new buildings and infrastructure so that the built environment is flawlessly connected and accessible to not only wheelchair users but also the elderly, families with children and people with other disabilities.
· The second strategic phase concentrated on tackling future challenges in improving the accessibility of existing buildings built before 1990.
· The third phase of the Masterplan sets out to ensure that accessible facilities provided are still available for their intended use and not removed or altered.
Since 2006, Singapore has achieved 100 per cent of public buildings that are visited by the public are provided with at least basic accessibility. These include government offices, medical facilities, public libraries, metro stations, bus interchanges, terminals, sports facilities, market and food centres etc. The BCA continues to encourage developers, building owners, designers and other industry stakeholders to apply universal design in new developments and those undergoing upgrading. To encourage stakeholders to do more than just comply with the Code, the authority promotes universal design through courses, roving exhibitions and seminars.
Singapore’s efforts to build an inclusive city has set an example for many countries. Today, people using wheelchairs and other mobility aids are no longer confined to their homes. They can often be seen moving around neighbourhood markets, food centres, shopping malls and activity centres with ease. The Accessibility Master Plan played a key role in fostering a user-friendly built environment and has set a notable milestone.