By Jorain Ng
On 23 January 2015, my organisation – the Disabled People’s Association (DPA) – paid a visit to S.E.A. Aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa.
As with all other events, this outing was organised for our members, including our institutional members. But this outing was especially significant because it marked DPA’s first collaboration with the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ). ANZ had kindly sponsored the tickets and also volunteered manpower on the day. The turnout was overwhelming, with a total of 135 participants from ANZ, Down Syndrome Association, Singapore Association for the Deaf and DPA.
Apart from giving our members an opportunity to have fun and socialise, the purpose of this visit was also to review the accessibility of the attraction. Touted to be the world’s largest aquarium, with streams of tourists from around the world, we felt it necessary that the attraction is accessible for all. And so, at the end of our visit, we conducted an informal feedback session on our members’ experiences.
This blog post records our findings and recommendations for improvements.
Everyone had a great time exploring the marine world. The sights were simply spectacular and other-worldly!
Walking through the glass tube, we were enchanted by the many fishes, of different colours, sizes and species, swimming around us. Moving deeper into the aquarium, we also saw bottenose dolphins, hammerhead sharks, mantra rays and many other animals. And let’s not forget about the luminous jellyfish glowing aquariums! Many of us were captivated by the different species of jellyfish pursing through the water. We were also mesmerised by the Open Ocean Tank or Ocean Dome. The large tank houses glittering schools of fishes, sharks, manta rays and many others, giving viewers a glimpse into marine life.
There is no doubt that everyone at DPA, and I believe other members from ANZ, DSA and SADeaf as well, thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
But the aquarium could be made more enjoyable for persons with disabilities. The following sections detail our feedback and suggestions to improve the accessibility of S.E.A. Aquarium.
Getting to S.E.A. Aquarium
DPA members did not face any difficulty getting to the aquarium. Some used specialised transport like a wheelchair-accessible taxi or bus, while others travelled on the MRT and bus to get to the attraction.
But finding the main entrance was not easy because the Entrance signboard is small and hard to spot, especially for persons with low vision.
DPA suggests adding footprint markers on the ground to lead visitors to the aquarium. It would also be helpful to have an Information / Visitors Support Desk where visitors can ask for directions to the aquarium, the lifts and wheelchair accessible toilets. Alternatively, the management could deploy trained staff at different locations inside and outside at the entrance of the aquarium to direct visitors.
Inside the Aquarium
The aquarium was a little too dark for comfort. Persons with low vision may face difficulty getting around the aquarium. Deep sea creatures may be sensitive to light, so a possible solution to this safely hazard is to add sidelights in poorly lit areas and have luminous graphical or text signs on the ground to guide visitors. This would not only aid persons with low vision, but other persons without disabilities as well.
There is also the issue of sudden steep slopes along the pathways. Manual wheelchair users might find it hard to climb the steep slopes. DPA suggests replacing the steep slopes with gentler ones. Again, this change would benefit not just wheelchair users, but also the elderly, children, and visitors with baby strollers.
Due to the throngs of visitors flocking to the front of every aquarium and exhibit, wheelchair users were not able to see much or had to wait for the visitors to leave.
To stem such inconsiderate behaviour, the management of the aquarium could deploy staff members at strategic locations to ensure that visitors give way to wheelchair users. This way, everyone gets a chance to see the sea creatures, not someone else’s back or head.
Wheelchair users also faced difficulty reading the information plaques of the various sea creatures. The plaques were either positioned too low or too high (i.e. above or below their eye level). The management could consider repositioning the various signages / information at a comfortable eye-level for wheelchair users.
As a visual spectacular that relies heavily on sight, it is hard to imagine how persons with visual impairment can enjoy the aquarium. Nothing is designed in a way that can help them enjoy the marine world. There are no tactile ground surface indicators to help them navigate around the aquarium independently, nor are there any braille text describing the different sea creatures.
To help improve the experience of persons with visual impairment, the management could add the aforementioned features to their aquarium. The management could also follow the footsteps of River Safari. River Safari helps persons with visual impairment visualise the animals by providing life-size replicas for them to touch and feel. Alternatively, the aquarium could develop an app (using GPS technology) to be used as a map/guide to give audio information about the exhibits/sea creatures.
Others (lifts, toilets & emergency protocol)
It was not easy to find the lifts as there were no lift signs. This caused great inconvenience to wheelchair users and their caregivers. The management could add lift signs around the aquarium or provide maps indicating the locations of lifts and toilets. Once again, this would benefit everyone – the elderly, children and adults – not just wheelchair users.
The aquarium has wheelchair accessible toilets. But like any other toilets in Singapore, there are a few inconsiderate persons without disabilities using them – a sure sign that Singapore needs more public education campaigns.
Finally, the aquarium lacks information on how persons with disabilities can escape the aquarium in the event of an emergency. Understandably, such emergency information are rarely provided at tourist attractions, but it is good practice to start doing so. The information can be posted at their website or at other notable areas of the attraction.
Despite these accessibility issues, all members happily chimed that they would recommend the visit to other persons with disabilities. DPA would love to visit the aquarium again, and extends our sincere gratitude to ANZ, SADeaf, DSA and S.E.A. Aquarium management.
So far, DPA has visited the Singapore Zoo, River Safari, Jurong Bird Park and now S.E.A. Aquarium. Are there other places you think DPA should visit and provide a review on its accessibility? Let me know in the comments below!