Disability toilets more about lowering barriers

Straits Times Forum, 3 September 2015 (print edition)

The Disabled People’s Association (DPA) agrees that public education should be done alongside a system that limits public access to disability facilities (“Get public on board to refrain from using toilets for the disabled” by Mr Edmund Wan of the Handicaps Welfare Association; Monday).

Jurong Point’s move should be complemented with education to help change behaviour over time.

To clarify DPA’s earlier comment that Jurong Point’s scheme misses the point, it is our position that merely controlling access to toilets for people with disabilities does not tackle the wider issue of changing the mindsets of people who would abuse those facilities (“Tap-in to use toilet for the disabled / Malls ‘will study card access system’“; last Friday, and “Good way to overcome abuse of toilets” by Mr Tan Sin Liang; Forum Online, yesterday).

Limiting access alone does not explain why the access is controlled in the first place; it has to be complemented with education.

People who think that toilets for people with disabilities should be accessible to all will continue to believe that, unless there is some effort to explain and justify the need for such controls.

It could even be argued that limiting access could take away the onus to do more public education.

Public education is an important tool to improve awareness and motivate social change.

Educating people about the proper use of specialised toilets could even have the wider effect of raising awareness about the proper use of other disability-related facilities, such as parking spots for those with mobility issues.

Toilets for people with disabilities are not about giving a group of people special treatment or prioritised access.

Like Mr Wan said, people using wheelchairs have no choice but to use the specially designed toilets.

Although the DPA understands the frustration of having to queue when there is an empty cubicle for people with disabilities, that cubicle needs to remain for the sole use of whom it is designed for (“Maximise, not curb, use of toilets for the disabled” by Mr Wong Boon Hong , and “Curbing toilet use not best solution” by Mr Chua Cheok Kwang; Forum Online, both published yesterday).

Unlike priority seats on MRT trains, users cannot see and give up the cubicle when someone who needs it more shows up.

Even suggesting a priority queue system for these toilets disregards the issue at hand.

There are many barriers that people with disabilities face in their everyday life, including getting around the older parts of Singapore and trying to find a job.

Ensuring unqualified access to toilets for people with disabilities is just one way society can try to reduce the number of barriers that people with disabilities have to deal with.

Marissa Lee Medjeral-Mills (Dr)
Executive Director
Disabled People’s Association

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