...with multiple physical disability.
Within the community, we often hear horror stories detailing the lack of empathy from bus captains and fellow commuters, the constant battles over whether a specialised paediatric buggy is a stroller that needs to be folded up or not, as well as being regarded as “troublesome”, among other commuting issues.
So it was refreshing to find that a bus operator in Singapore is proactively lending an ear to better understand the challenges faced by passengers with special needs and their caregivers.
Tower Transit Singapore, the third bus operator here after SBS Transit and SMRT, partnered SPD (previously known as Society for the Physically Disabled) to conduct a closed door focus group session to gain insights on how they can make Tower Transit’s services more universally accessible. More than 20 representatives - beneficiaries from SPD, Deaf commuters, caregivers from Rare Disorders Society (Singapore) and commuters from the visually impaired community - attended the session at Bulim Bus Depot on Thursday, 15 September.
Joanne Lim, 36, the mother of a 7-year-old child with cerebral palsy, was one of the participants. She said:
“The session was wonderful and eye-opening as it was the first time we got to meet the bus management people and passengers from other disability groups. I’m happy to know that Tower Transit cares enough to come forward and talk to the parents of children with special needs. They are the first bus operator to do so and it is a good start.”
Juliah Kasiman, 37, who has a special needs child, represented passengers from the Rare Disorders Society (Singapore) and the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore School. Before attending the session, she helped collate user feedback from fellow caregivers who frequently travel on public buses with their children – most of whom are below 12 and have mobility challenges.
In a presentation shared with Tower Transit and fellow participants, Juliah identified key areas of need and provided suggestions for improvement.
- The need to educate bus captains and the public that children with mobility challenges travel on specialised buggies and strollers, not just on commonly recognisable wheelchairs;
- Highlighting the challenges of travelling on buses, such as having to fold up heavy buggies and strollers while attending to a child with poor head and muscle control;
- The need for more proactive help from bus captains for passengers with disabilities;
- The need for buses, bus interchanges and transport infrastructure along bus routes to be better designed to enable accessibility and improve the safety of passengers with disabilities.
“The best thing about this session was the mutual sharing between our participants and our staff. It wasn’t just polite. It was honest and insightful. It helped our trainers and bus captains look at our services and our facilities through the eyes of people with disabilities. I believe it also helped our friends with disabilities better understand the role of a bus operator and the job of a bus captain,”
said Glenn Lim, Group Communications Director of Tower Transit Singapore.
Wendy Chong, 42, the mother of a 7-year-old who travels on a specialised buggy, said: “It is a great opportunity to educate bus operators about disability and that there is a group of paediatric users out there with unique needs. Their transportation or mobility tools may be different from the commonly recognisable ones. At the same time, I have also learnt more about the limitations faced by bus operators. For example, buses and transport infrastructure are owned and controlled by the government, not bus operators, and there are differences between old and new bus operator systems. I also learnt that bus captains have key performance indicators to meet.
I hope that governing bodies, like the Land Transport Authority and the authorities who own the buses and transport infrastructure, will work with bus operators and users like us to achieve a more universally accessible bus system. This will not just enable passengers like us, but also bus operators to achieve the inclusive approaches they hope to extend towards their passengers. It takes a village to achieve inclusion.”
The session was also attended by Tower Transit bus captains, a trainer as well as a bus interchange supervisor. Nurizmal Mazlan, an interchange supervisor with Tower Transit, said: “The session showed us that we need to give more care and patience to help better the experience of our friends with special needs.”
“A lot of valuable suggestions and insights were shared during the session and we have started to act on some of them. Tower Transit will be putting up notices on our notice boards to help bus captains confidently deal with passengers with disabilities. This includes empowering them to receive special needs children on board in their strollers and educating our Operations Command Centre to answer related questions from bus captains in these situations.”
Despite limitations set by the regulators, the special needs community is thankful that Tower Transit is proactively looking for ways to help our community and has continued to provide feedback to the regulators on areas for improvement.
“I am thankful that our challenges are being heard and that at least one company is learning to understand what our needs are. We hope this would encourage other bus operators to step up and acknowledge that there is a gap in services for people with disabilities and to have them in mind when designing transport infrastructure, standard operating procedures and processes. It should not be an afterthought,” said Juliah.
For me as a participant of the session, it was also very heartening to see representatives from different disability groups show solidarity by lending an empathetic ear, sharing an encouraging word and even giving suggestions on how to address the needs of other disability groups. During breaks, participants - sign language interpreter, deaf persons, the visually impaired , caregivers - mingled among themselves with lively conversations. I myself was so happy to bump into my ex sign language teacher at the session.
We look forward to a more universally accessible bus system in Singapore which will enable commuters of different abilities to have equal access. After all, the aspiration to build a world-class transport system in Singapore should start with the desire to enable commuters of all shapes and sizes to travel freely.