Note: Ok. The following post has been sitting around since late November 2010. By the way, I'm not dead, or silenced by the ISD, or told by the ISD that I'm not dead or silenced by them.
Nov 27, 2010.
As part of the work I do at the location-based service start-up, I get to meet and listen to the opinions people have about our products and services.
In the mid-week, we got to meet a gentleman who was visually impaired. He shared with us insights into how a blind person like himself uses technology, namely his smart phone. At the same time, he told us his aspirations and expectations for technological as well as transport policy improvements.
I'll leave the technological considerations in the office, but in our short discussion, I learned how blind-unfriendly the public transport system is in Singapore.
To be fair, the train stations have improved a lot in the past few years. With the inclusion of elevators and more slopes in place of stairs, as well as guiding plates being installed on the floors of every train station, plus the station name announcement, the blind are able to be use the train system a lot more independently and confidently.
However, buses are lagging behind. While a sizable number of buses are "wheelchair-friendly" according to non-wheelchair-bound people, they have yet to make changes to the bus system to make them blind-friendly.
Some of the suggestions brought up by the gentleman we spoke with are definitely useful to facilitate the visually impaired travelling on buses:
1) Buses could have a similar technology to that of the train system, where there would be an automatic announcement stating the upcoming stop within, say, 500m of the stop itself.
2) Bus-stops could also have an audio announcement, stating which bus would arrive in 1 minute and which bus has arrived.
These ideas benefit those both the blind, the elderly and also persons unfamiliar with their surroundings.
Considering we want more visitors and that we are facing an ageing population, it would justify spending to improve this aspect of public transport.
Unfortunately, most Singaporeans are trapped in the belief of the dualism of government spending and taxes. If we were to implement such technological solutions, taxes will have to increase, hence we shouldn't do anything and should just stay where we comfortably are. You know, to cut the PAP government a little slack, part of the taxes we pay today, do go into the creation of infrastructure when we're old (apart from elaborate ceremonies like the Youth Olympic Games as we prostitute ourselves to the rest of the world).
Well, the government could fund institutes of higher learning as well as local companies to research and work on this as a project. And this would be well within one of the many grand masterplans we have for Singapore to be innovative and also to boast a truly first world transport system.
I think it would be money well-spent. And I hope the Land Transport Authority considers implementing this technology, if they already haven't.
The gentleman we spoke with shared with us the anxieties some visually impaired people have boarding our buses. Among them, they fear missing their stop, and also fear the instant when the bus driver forgets to alert them to their stop.
The funny thing about Singapore is that the government puts in a lot of resources (and effort) to make this country meritocratic. Infrastructure, facilities, skills training, subsidised education, subsidised healthcare and other related perks and opportunities are all established for Singaporeans to be independent. Such that when failure occurs, in the form of poor health, poor financial management or unemployment, the problem is reduced to the individual and the state is absolved of blame. Meritocracy what!
But in the case of the public transport system (specifically buses), the government is not doing enough to make it blind-friendly. The visually impaired want independence too, but there is insufficient effort (and resources) committed to creating more blind-friendly infrastructure. Perhaps they suffer because we take some things for granted. So who is more blind then?
I hope the government will continue to engage the visually impaired (and more seriously), and many other differently-abled Singaporeans, with a view to actually improving infrastructure to facilitate their independence. This is not a political baby-kissing photo extravaganza, but a legitimate issue in need of addressing for years now. We can and should build and develop our transport infrastructure based on the feedback of stakeholders, of different ages and abilities.