Towards a Barrier Free Environment in Housing Development Board (HDB) Public Housing

Today, over 80% of Singaporeans live in public housing; the key area where there has been growing concerns over accessibility. In fact, the number is even expected to rise further owning to the rapid growth of the ageing population. Of this population, a percentage are likely to experience mobility challenges and varying abilities, which could bar them from using certain facilities or buildings.  As a result of this, the Housing Development Board has been keen on ensuring a barrier free environment in public housing.

There are numerous steps that have been taken by the Housing Development Board in an effort to create a barrier free and friendly environment in public housing. Besides, the body has also outlined an array of plans that it intends to pursue towards creating a barrier free environment in public buildings. The following is a guide to the current policies, including improvement plans of the HDB towards a barrier free environment in public housing;

Developing a Barrier-Free and Friendly Environment

The need for a barrier free environment in public housing began years ago. The Housing Development Board commissioned a study into the adoption of barrier free features in buildings. Its first project was conducted in Ang Mo Kio Town Center in the 1970s.

In 1985, the Housing Development Board introduced provisions for barrier free designs in it public housings at the neighborhood, precinct and apartment blocks levels. In each level, it outlined the provisions and recommendations to be implemented for creating a barrier free environment.

Neighborhood Level

The HDB proposed and so far seen the creation of several barrier-free and vehicular-free walkways to link every precinct to the facilities offered in the neighborhood. This is aimed at ensuring that all residents, including, the elderly and those with disabilities can safely and easily access various commercial and recreational amenities that are located in the neighborhood.

Precinct Level

One of the key recommendations that has been implemented at the precinct level is creation of drop-off points with barrier-free access for both driveways and walkways, connecting high rise car parks with public housing property. Another main barrier free access feature at the precinct level is creating paved surface car parks and, ramps specifically for use by people with disabilities.

Apartment Blocks Level

A key step at the apartment block level was improving accessibility to lifts; a provision that has been effective since 1989. Before the HDB introduced this provision, the designs of apartment blocks only allowed lifts to stop at intermediate levels of the building. The policy now stipulates that lifts should stop at every floor in new public housing developments. Besides, it also requires that lift cars are enhanced with special features to cater for the elderly and disabled like, handrails, wider lift doors that can accommodate wheelchair users and lower lift call buttons.

On the other hand, all lifts have also been enhanced with Braille plates and Voice Synthesizers to assist those with visual impairments when using the facilities. The HDB also requires that all multi-storey car parking lots are equipped with lift shafts so that lifts can be available at any time of need for users with varying abilities.

The Housing Development Board is also working hand in hand with the Land Transport Authority towards creating an integrated barrier free environment on transportation routes in the neighborhood and its precincts. This is aimed at ensuring that both levels are connected to frequently used transportation amenities like, the Mass Rapid Transport and Light Rail Transport systems.

Barrier-Free Accessibility Features within the Flats

Over the years, the design of HDB flats has evolved to incorporate a wide range of accessibility features for the elderly. Some of the features that it seeks to add in its new developments include, low positioned switches and sockets, easy-to-use racks for drying clothes, and level-styled door and water tap handles among others. HDB also seeks to review its designs to include other essential features in the flats for easy adoption. This is mainly done by creating space and provisions in the structural designs of the flats so that barrier free access features can be easily added in future.

Through this provision, the elderly will not be forced to relocate to other care facilities or homes against their wishes. Instead, they will be able to only adjust the designs or certain barrier free features to suit their needs.  Today, a wide range of studio apartments are designed with provisions for barrier free accessibility features to cater for seniors.

Special Flats for the Elderly

The design of studio apartments is conducted with the needs of the elderly in mind. In fact, the come with readily installed fittings and fixtures for the entire apartment to make it much easier for the elderly to conduct common activities in the apartment independently. Some of the features of these studio apartments include pre-installed, instant water heaters, kitchen fittings, light finishes among others. As a result of this, the elderly can simply move into the flats without the stress of complex renovations.

Studio apartments for the elderly are also enhanced with several other barrier free access features to effectively cater for their specific needs including, mobility within the buildings. The houses have provisions for use with wheelchairs. Besides, there are also easy-to-use safety devices for fire alarms and other emergencies.

Programmes for Improving the Current Living Environment

Apart from the provisions discussed above, HDB has also outlined some of the programmes that it intends to use towards creating a barrier free environment in public housing. These include;

  • The Main Upgrading programme

This is aimed at making improvements inside the flats, common areas around the apartment blocks and the external built environment to ensure that they are accessible and friendly to all.

  • Project to Improve the Living Conditions of the Elderly

This is based on upgrading single room rentals housing large numbers of poor and single senior households.

  • Lift Upgrading Programme

This will see the improvement of lift accessibility in public housing.