Articles on the physical accessibility of Singapore’s public transport.

Complement fines with education

Straits Times Forum, 20 January 2016 (print edition)

The Disabled People’s Association (DPA) welcomes the stronger penalties for drivers caught misusing handicap parking spaces (“Fines up for disabled parking misuse“; Monday).

This is a timely effort, considering the recent spate of events involving the misuse of these parking spaces (“Cab leaves no room for wheelchair user“; Jan 5). But imposing higher fines may not be enough to deter offenders and would-be offenders.

More public education needs to be carried out to explain why access to handicap parking spaces is strictly restricted to people with disabilities.

In busy areas such as shopping malls, where parking spaces are limited, some drivers may think it is acceptable to park in a handicap parking space, and they will continue to believe that, unless some effort is made to explain the need for such restrictions.

The fines should continue to be complemented with public education to help address the need to change behaviour over time.

In particular, the DPA urges private carparks, such as those in shopping centres, to educate the public and their own staff about the proper use of facilities for disabled people and the need to properly implement any penalties the management has for the misuse of those spaces.

The parking space for people with disabilities at Cluny Court is repeatedly used by people without the appropriate parking label. The carpark staff even tell drivers to park there when there are no other parking spaces available.

Such cases are not isolated to this shopping centre, but it does illustrate how poor commitment to implementing the proper use of the handicap parking spaces undercuts the point of having those spaces in the first place.

Stronger penalties help spread public awareness that such conduct is not just socially unacceptable, but is also against the law.

Yet, without proper implementation, people will continue to believe that the misuse of parking spaces for people with disabilities is something that they can easily get away with.

These reserved parking spaces are not about giving special privileges to a group of people. People with disabilities have no other choice but to park in these designated spaces, as the wider spaces are needed for them to get in and out of their cars.

This parking issue has a wider significance in Singapore’s journey towards an inclusive society.

I urge members of the public to report the misuse of these spaces to the management of carparks and follow up with them in properly penalising the misuse.

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


Note: DPA does not think that the term “handicap parking spaces” is appropriate terminology. (Please refer to DPA’s glossary for more information:…/10/DPA-Disability-Glossary-FINAL.pdf) The Forum editor edited DPA’s letter and changed the terms “parking lot for persons with disabilities” and “disabled parking spaces” to “handicap parking spaces”.

Enforce Stricter Laws on Disabled Parking Lots

By Jorain Ng

A man leaving a market walks towards the parking lot, when he spotted a car without the SG Enable-issued label parked in a disabled parking lot.[1] He approached the car owner and advised her to move her car, but was rebuffed by the car owner who replied that she did not mind getting fined as she was wealthy.[2]

This is a very disheartening scenario, and one that happens frequently in Singapore. It seems like once every few months a member of the public writes in to Singapore’s newspaper forum citing another abuse of disabled parking lots. All these acts of violation could be prevented if we pass stricter laws on disabled parking.

Although accessibility for persons with mobility impairments is my biggest concern, there are other arguments that point to this solution as well.

The law regulating the use of disabled parking lots lacks bite. Rule 29(1) of the Parking Places Act states that no person shall park in any reserved parking lot unless he is authorised by the Superintendent and unless such authorisation is displayed on the vehicle.[3] Offenders only pay a small price ranging from $25 to $80, depending on the type of vehicle.[4] It is hardly surprising that drivers without the SG Enable-issued labels continue to abuse these disabled parking spaces .[5]

The opposition would argue that imposing stricter laws does not tackle the root cause – the cause being apathy or a general lack of awareness and sensitivity towards the needs of persons with disabilities. Indeed, real kindness cannot be legislated, given the spontaneity of this natural human sentiment that prompts us, at the level of our souls and spirits, to have a care toward each other.

But this rebuttal neglects the symbolic significance of having stricter laws. Stricter laws will give a certain gravitas to the long-standing issue of abuse and send a strong message to the public that continued abuse is a serious matter that will not be tolerated by the Government. It will also signify the Government’s commitment to protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

Opponents might also argue in favour of the soft approach. Using public awareness and moral appeals to influence public opinion and behaviour, in their opinion, should be the way to go. They inform, educate, and encourage individuals to “do the right thing” which, in this case, is respecting the use of disabled parking lots.

But moral suasion alone will not stop the abuse of disabled parking lots. Ensuring public compliance most often requires the use of both the carrot and the stick. The Singapore government acknowledges this fact and, in their approach to litter prevention for example, continues to enforce strict laws on littering despite conducting “Clean and Green” campaigns.

Enforcing stricter laws will also ensure greater accessibility for persons with physical disabilities. For most wheelchair users traveling to places with no wheelchair-accessible bus services and sheltered linkway from MRT stations, hiring a wheelchair accessible bus or taxi is the preferred mode of transport. The only potential drawback is that the drivers cannot find an available disabled parking spot which will enable them to assist their passenger in boarding and disembarking the vehicle smoothly. Enforcing stricter laws will ensure that these drivers and the passengers they ferry are ensured access to the disabled parking lots.

Another argument opponents might make is that it is not easy to ensure public compliance simply by enforcing stricter laws because of jurisdiction issues. SG Enable may be the agency responsible for issuing the disabled parking labels but they have no legal authority to punish drivers who park at disabled parking lots without authorisation. Currently the Housing Development Board (HDB) have the jurisdiction to fine and give demerit points to illegal parkers at HDB flats. But at other places like shopping malls and private estates, there is no legal authority that can oversee and enforce the law.

Admittedly, there is currently no solution for this issue of jurisdiction. Yet, there are areas where enforcement is possible, like the HDB flats mentioned above. It is at these places where drivers ferrying persons with disabilities or drivers with physical disabilities themselves can benefit from stricter enforcement.

For those of us who are not physically disabled, like the lady mentioned at the start of this paper, it is easy to overlook or even disregard the needs of persons with disabilities. This is where the law, backed in teeth and bite, in conjunction with public education must come into the picture. The outcome will be a Singapore society that is barrier-free and inclusive for persons with disabilities.


[1] In Singapore, the SG Enable-issued labels authorises the use of disabled parking lot for a certain amount of time depending on who the driver is. Drivers with physical disabilities can park in the designated lot for any duration, while drivers ferrying people with physical disabilities can temporarily park in the lot for up to 60 minutes only, when ferrying passengers who require the use of bulky mobility aids and must shift their vehicles after bringing their passenger to a safe place. SG Enable, “Car Park Label Scheme for Persons with Physical Disabilities,” (accessed 5 Dec 2014).

[2] This is an actual case that occurred in December 29, 2014. Ong Soon Kiat, “Enforce law on handicap parking more strictly,” The Straits Times, 29 Dec 2014, (accessed 10 January 2015).

[3] ‘Parking Places Act,’ No. 5 of 1974, in Chapter 214, Section 8, Republic of Singapore Government Gazette Acts Supplement,;page=0;query=DocId%3A%22777ad723-96ca-4c53-bd25-37190b6f1576%22%20Status%3Ainforce%20Depth%3A0;rec=0#pr29-he-. (accessed 5 Dec. 2014).

[4] A Motor Cycle pays a $25 fine, Motor Car pays $50 fine, and Heavy Vehicles pays $80 fine. For more information, please see Housing & Development Board, “Parking Rules and Fine Amount,” HDB InfoWEB, “Parking Rules and Fine Amount,” (accessed 5 Dec. 2014).

[5] Goh Chin Lian, “Nicholas Aw: ‘We need laws to protect rights of the disabled’,” Singapolitics, 16 Nov. 2013, (accessed 5 Dec. 2014).


Goh Chin Lian. “Nicholas Aw: ‘We need laws to protect rights of the disabled’.” Singapolitics, 16 Nov. 2013, (accessed 5 Dec. 2014).

HDB InfoWEB. “Parking Rules and Fine Amount.” (accessed 5 Dec. 2014).

Ong Soon Kiat. “Enforce law on handicap parking more strictly.” The Straits Times, 29 Dec 2014, (accessed 10 January 2015).

‘Parking Places Act.’ No. 5 of 1974, in Chapter 214, Section 8, Republic of Singapore Government Gazette Acts Supplement,;page=0;query=DocId%3A%22777ad723-96ca-4c53-bd25-37190b6f1576%22%20Status%3Ainforce%20Depth%3A0;rec=0#pr29-he-. (accessed 5 Dec. 2014)

SG Enable. “Car Park Label Scheme for Persons with Physical Disabilities.” (accessed 5 Dec 2014).

Transport for the disabled: Do more to plug gaps

Straits Times Forum, 20 January 2014 (print edition)

THE Disabled People’s Association (DPA) welcomes the announcement of transport concessions for people with disabilities (“Transport fare hike offset by slew of concessions”; last Friday).

This is a positive and much-awaited move which finally fulfils the disability community’s longstanding request for transport concessions, as per the practice in many other countries.

The Public Transport Council and media reports have stated that about 50,000 people with disabilities are expected to benefit from the concessions.

However, Singapore’s disability community is estimated to number almost double that, at about 97,200, of whom about 77,200 are aged 18 and above.

This disparity raises the question of which disability groups are not covered and why.

The DPA strongly urges that all people with recognised disabilities – physical, sensory, intellectual, neurological or mental – be made eligible for subsidised fares.

For those who are not deemed to be automatically eligible and need to apply for the concession, the verification of their status and processing of their applications should be accessible, convenient and timely.

There is also the issue of transport concessions for people with more severe physical disabilities who need to hire wheelchair-accessible taxis to travel to school or for work. This is because taking the bus or train poses safety and logistical challenges.

Currently, two programmes – the LTA Cares Fund and Handicare Cab Scheme (which subsidises only the taxi booking fee) – provide concessions for them.

But the criteria of net per capita household income of less than $1,500 and $700 respectively are so strict that a large proportion are unlikely to qualify for any subsidy. As a result, many struggle to afford taxi fares.

The DPA would like to see more comprehensive and generous transport concessions – similar to those for buses and trains – for this specific group.

Lastly, affordable transport fares are merely one factor, albeit an important one, in determining whether our national transport system is truly inclusive of people with physical disabilities.

We have had feedback from wheelchair users about bus drivers refusing to stop for them, of being squeezed out of lifts by non-disabled commuters at MRT stations, and of insufficient wheelchair-accessible taxis as well as booking difficulties.

The DPA urges the transport authorities and providers to review these issues and take further measures to plug the existing gaps.

Alvan Yap
Advocacy Executive
Disabled People’s Association

ST Supper Club with Nicholas Aw

From the Straits Times, 16 November 2013
By Goh Chin Lian

Part 1: ‘Let the disabled pay half price’
Commuters with disabilities are to get fare concessions on the bus and MRT, the Government said this week. But Mr Nicholas Aw, president of the Disabled People’s Association, wants them to pay half price. In Part 1 of this interview with Singapolitics, Mr Aw, whose advocacy group celebrates International Day of Persons with Disabilities in Singapore on Saturday, calls for taxi vouchers and a national registry to keep track of persons with disabilities.

Q: What’s your take on the concessions?
It’s very welcomed. We’ve been asking for this for a very long time. But we are curious as to who qualifies.

The definition of disability is very wide. Anyone can have a disability at any time. Does it apply to people with a temporary disability or who’s injured? Or only people registered with the Government or voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs)? Are those with mental issues considered to have a disability?

I’ve Tourette’s Syndrome. The group that I used to be with, the Tourette care group, says it’s a condition. But the Very Special Arts group in Singapore defines it as a disability. Whichever the case, the concession should include all persons with disabilities.

Is there a means test? Is it for the rich as well? It should be applied across the board, otherwise you have to go through a lot of paperwork which may be a challenge for persons with disabilities.

There are those who are well off, but the vast majority are disadvantaged because they lack access to education, information, accommodation and employment. For example, people with Down’s Syndrome can’t do some of the jobs abled people can do because of their condition.

There must be some safeguards so that the concession won’t be open to abuse. Carpark labels for persons with disabilities are often abused. There’s a blue label for persons with disabilities who drive, and an orange label for caregivers. There’s a time limit for caregivers, but people tend to abuse it.

How do you prevent this? Apart from abuse by abled people, there’s abuse also by the persons with disabilities or their caregivers. Let’s say you’ve a pass for the concessions. What if you lend it to someone else?

Even if these concessions are given, can a person with disability get on board the bus or train to enjoy the benefits? Many are wheelchair users. The route from their home to the MRT or bus stop can be a challenge because when they come to a kerb, there is no ramp.

Almost every MRT has one lift. The person on the wheelchair has to fight with abled people, the elderly and people with strollers for that one lift. A member told me he waited for an hour for the lift. Every time the door opens, they just rush in. Clearly they could have used the escalator.

I was with my son in a stroller at Gardens by the Bay. The lift is for people with strollers, the elderly or PWD. Two young couples just rushed in.

Staff manning the doors don’t know what to do if there’s a person with disability. When it’s crowded, do they tell the crowds to stand aside to let him through?

Are there standard operating procedures? Our members complain they can’t get on the train at peak hours due to people rushing in.

Q: How big a deal is public transport cost for this group?
In Scotland, public transport is free for those above 60 and people with disabilities. Malaysia gives up to 50 per cent off on trains. Australia gives taxi vouchers. The minister says the concession will offset any fare increase. How much less do they pay? It has to be at least 50 per cent – enough to draw the person with disability out of the house.

Many find it a hassle to take buses. They complain that the bus captains drive by and don’t stop, as they’d have to get down to engage the ramp. It might be a challenge for them to travel from their home to the bus stop, so they call for a cab. The cab fares may be half or three quarters of their monthly pay. So, make it easier for them to take taxis by giving them vouchers.

There are persons with disabilities, with mobility issues, who can drive. But the car has to be modified to suit their disability. The Government can subsidise their car by waiving the COE.

Q: Why do you think that tax payers should foot the bill?

You want to be an inclusive society. One day you’ll be old as well and you may have a disability. Someone will pay for your concessions. It’s karma: You give and you get back in return.

A lot of people with disabilities would rather stay at home because they can’t get out or if they get out, it’s very troublesome and they have to pay for bus, MRT or taxi. When they stay at home, you don’t see them. You don’t see that many people in a wheelchair on the MRT. But if you go for an event where it involves a VWO or a charity, there are a lot of wheelchair users.

I went for an event at a temple recently. The people in wheelchairs came by buses. I was astounded by the number of people in wheelchairs there.

Q: Why do you think the Government is now for concessions for people with disabilities, when it did not previously?
Apart from ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Government probably recognises that it has to include everyone in their radar and ensure no one is marginalised because of its aim for an inclusive society.

They recognise we are an ageing population with many persons with disabilities becoming more visible in the population. For various reasons, we see a gradual shift towards more welfare-oriented policies.

Q: Why is a national registry of persons with disabilities needed?
A lot of people with disabilities are single or elderly with no one to care for.

You don’t want anyone to fall through the gaps. It may not capture everyone, but at least it’s a start to account for people with disabilities, and it’s a growing number because we are ageing. A lot of them suffer from age-related issues. They start using wheelchairs. They may not be disabled, but they stop walking.

Not all persons with disabilities will want to be registered with VWOs. Some may not be aware. The Government was giving out Goods and Services Tax (GST) credits, and they kept asking people to sign up at the ATMs. People didn’t do it because they were not aware of it. They do not have access to TV or newspapers.

Without accurate numbers and statistics, how does the Government plan policies related to disability? Even the Enabling Masterplan admits its figures for the total numbers in the disability community is an estimate, because no complete statistics are available, it’s all over the place.

Q: What do you think of the plan for all buses to be wheelchair-accessible by 2020?
It’s too long. I’m impatient for change. Maybe there are issues to be resolved that we are not aware of, but things should happen sooner than later because some of these people may not see the benefits after it is rolled out. A lot of them are very old as well.

Part 2: ‘We need laws to protect rights of the disabled’
Disabled commuters are to get fare concessions on public transport, the Government said this week. In Part 2 of this interview, Mr Nicholas Aw, president of the Disabled People’s Association, tells Singapolitics about Lamborghini drivers hogging parking spaces reserved for those with disabilities, and changing mindsets through a recent video campaign.

Q: What are the other transport issues?
Enforcement’s needed. There’s indiscriminate abuse of parking spaces set aside for persons with disabilities. People don’t care. The fine is too small. To someone who drives a Lamborghini, at Marina Bay Sands, it’s small change.

I’ve encountered people who just laugh about it. I call security. They’re afraid to enforce because no law requires them to do so. They’re afraid they will lose their customers.

Playground@Big Splash is crowded every Saturday. Three parking spaces are reserved for persons with disabilities. The security guard allowed abled people to park there. He said: “It’s very crowded.”

I said: “What if there’s a person with a disability? How is he supposed to park?” He said to me: “This is private property. If you’re not happy, call the police.” He’s got a point.

Even if I call the police, it’s private property, there’s nothing I can do. You’ve all the rules, but if you don’t have enforcement, they’re toothless.

Toilets reserved for persons with disabilities are often abused. People see a queue for the ladies, which is often very long. They go there and have a quick one. It happened at a concert organised by the Very Special Arts group. The Prime Minister was the guest-of-honour.

During the reception, I saw a person in a wheelchair waiting outside the toilet for persons with disabilities. I asked: “Who are you waiting for?” “It’s locked”. Then a person came out and he’s abled. Good grief. We’re at an event for persons with disabilities and you abuse the toilet meant for them!

We think no one is going to use it, so we can use it. If you use it, you open the door, you see somebody waiting for you in a wheelchair, where are you going to hide your face?

There are rules about guide dogs for the visually impaired going into food establishments. They’re often not allowed. In shopping centres, they’re accompanied by staff or security because they’re worried that the dogs will affect other customers. This is clearly discrimination.

We need to put bite into all these rules. I’ve recently written to the Prime Minister to consider legislation to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.

At the very least, it will protect them from abuse and enforce the measures that protect them. A person with a guide dog should not be subject to discrimination. Abled people who park at spaces reserved set aside for persons with disabilities in private carparks will be subject to the law.

Q: Is legislation the way to change mindsets and attitudes?
At the rate we’re going, yes, because people are apathetic. I believe in the goodness of people, but I don’t know how it applies. It will be so nice to see people offer their seats on the MRT without saying: “This is a reserved seat, you have to give it up.”

If you’re sitting on the non-reserved seat and you give it up, you make that person’s day and you make your day too because you feel proud of yourself. The rest will think: “Why didn’t I do that?” That’s what we try to promote through our campaign. The tagline is: Remember, their biggest disability is our apathy.

We target the younger ones. This year, my staff proposed to the Ministry of Education (MOE) to include a disability module in its Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) subject, following an announcement that there’ll be an animal welfare module in the revamped CCE.

They initiated discussions with MOE, the National Council of Social Service and other disability VWOs. There’s nothing concrete yet, but the parties are open to the idea. 

It’s all about the mindset that persons with disabilities shouldn’t be pitied; people shouldn’t be apathetic to their needs. Because of our selfishness, our inconsiderate behaviour, they’re affected.

Q: What led to your campaign?
I thought public education was very needed in Singapore. We targeted transportation because the most common feedback was that people don’t give up their seats, lifts are always crowded, parking spaces for persons with disabilities are abused. We wrote to the creative companies. No one wanted to pitch for it.

I was fortunate to know someone from creative agency Goodfellas who did it for us pro bono. We attended the same school, St Joseph’s Institution, and we play soccer together. I emailed him. He said: “Sure, let’s have a look.” We only paid for advertising cost in the cinemas, social media, TV and newspapers. The lovely Eunice Olsen composed an original score for the video. (see video here:

Q: Do you see a big shift in Singapore to being more inclusive?
The concession is a huge move. It’s a sign that the Government is moving forward in improving the lives of people with disabilities and being inclusive.

The Prime Minister shared our campaign video on his Facebook page. He said: “Let’s do our part!” We’re not asking people to do a lot. Just giving way. Be a bit considerate. Then all these things about concessions will fall into place.

Q: Why do we need to change our labels for disabilities?
Terminology is important because some people are very sensitive to labels. The word “wheelchair-bound” (instead of wheelchair user) means people are bound to the wheelchair, but they can get out and they don’t live in a wheelchair. It may seem trivial to some people but to those in wheelchairs, it may mean a lot.

We’ve a dictionary on terminology. “Spastic” is changed to “cerebal palsy” after 50 years. The word “disabled” is wrong. We’re part of the Disabled People’s International, so I can’t just tell them to change the name overnight. If we follow the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, it’s “persons with disabilities”. “Handicap” is a misnomer.

When I was young, people laughed at me because of my condition. Name-calling is very painful for the young especially. We’ve got to use proper terminology to protect everyone so they won’t be embarrassed of their condition or disability. The principle is not to label people or use derogatory terms that make people feel small about themselves.

Q: What’s it like to grow up with Tourette’s Syndrome?
I had it when I was 12. I used to be stared at. People would laugh at or imitate me. People thought I was possessed. I came to terms with it. It was a challenge to study. Sometimes it hinders my ability to read. I take longer to do it. I don’t really care what people think about me anymore. Being a lawyer helps. You grow a skin that’s very thick.

But I worry for those who have the condition, are ostracised and can’t get proper jobs. Someone with Tourette’s told me he had a hard time at national service. He was bullied by his peers and laughed at. No one understands his condition, which was very bad. He was using expletives and shouting. I told him to seek medical help because there is medication that helps.

I’m off medication because I’ve been taking it for years. My wife saw through my condition, so I’m very blessed for that.

I’ve a lot of good friends who tell me they don’t see my condition, they just see me as who I am. I’m very thankful for that and I feel very lucky. I hope for the same thing for people with any condition.

Q: What’s the biggest barrier you face for your condition?
I’ve passed that age when I was afraid. When I was younger, I’d think: “What did I do wrong with my life?” “Why was I like that?” “What can I do to help change?”

I can’t see much of a barrier except perhaps when it comes to speech or reading. I have difficulties when I’m stressed. I can’t focus because there’ll be spasms or tics.

Sometimes it can be embarrassing even though I don’t really care. People do stare. I can hear them make comments. Recently I went to a party. I was introduced to a couple and the lady asked me: “Can I ask you a personal question? You have Tourette’s right?” And we carried on. It’s the kind of thing I appreciate rather than to hear whispers: “Why is he so strange? Is there something wrong with him?” For those who want to know, just ask.

When you stare at someone with a disability, talk behind his back or point, he’ll feel embarrassed, awkward and sorry for himself because he’ll think: “Why am I like that?”

The effect of what people do can be very powerful on someone who’s got a condition or a disability. People have to be sensitive to those with special needs.

Letter From A Reader

A reader, who prefers to remain anonymous, wrote in about our campaign and personal experience.

We thank the reader for giving permission to republish the letter here.

Do let us know if you have similar experiences when using public transport. We will request the bus companies to enforce their own rules and disciplinary measures on bus drivers who refuse to pick up wheelchair users. After all, why are we spending so much on wheelchair-accessible buses if these are not being used for that very purpose?

Do email if you wish to give your inputs and feedback.

“I am writing to convey my sincere appreciation of the recent campaign ads by DPA. As a family member of a wheelchair user, I must say the campaign messages fully convey our deepest thoughts, fears, frustrations and sense of helplessness. 

Since my father started to use a wheelchair to get around, we had many unpleasant encounters. Perhaps it could be due to ignorance on the part of the public, though apathy and selfishness seem to be the real causes. My family and I have met many SBS bus drivers who declined to stop for my father. Maybe they treated us with disrespect because they felt it is additional work for them to get out of their seats and let down the ramp for the wheelchair.

I have also lost count of the number of times we came across people who, simply out of convenience, took the lift at the MRT stations and refused to give way to my father even though they could easily use the escalator, and people who arrived at the lift lobby after us and quickly dashed into the lift, not allowing my dad in his wheelchair to get in. 

Also, pushing my dad on his wheelchair along a pedestrian pavement would result in countless cyclists ringing their bells, as if I was supposed to push my dad down the kerb to give way to them. 

So DPA’s campaign message on being aware and considerate, and to give way to wheelchair users on public transport and in the usage of facilities meant for them, resonates deeply with us. We hope that such ads will continue to appear in more parts of Singapore, such as the external door of lifts at MRT stations. 

Thank you DPA once again, and I want to say again your campaign is indeed a good one! Please keep up the good work – it matters a lot to wheelchair users and their caregivers.”