Sunday, 26 April 2015

New Zealand: Adventure Capital of the World

In recent decades, New Zealand has received much attention in its development of the adventure tourism niche. Celebrating non-conventional tourist expectations counter to those of mass tourists, adventure tourism is combination of nature, sport and outdoor recreation.

It is recognized that the risk-seeking nature incorporates real physical danger as a part of this tourist activity. Nevertheless, the current industry perspective is that the responsibility for safety is of commercial tour operators - the client's outdoor experience must be facilitated with the minimum amount of risk. Psychological motivations of risk-seeking tourists and New Zealand's existing standards of safety management both play a vital part in cementing this mountainous subtropical nation as "the world's leading adrenaline hotspot".

Monday, 13 February 2012

Disability in Singapore

Here is a news article from TODAYonline quoting population figures of the disabled community in Singapore.
IT WAS opined last February by then-Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, during a grassroots dialogue, that last year's Budget still had a 10-per-cent gap, referring especially to help for Singaporeans with special needs. 
He added that the issue was brought to the attention of the Finance Minister.
In October, a three-year study by the Lien Centre for Social Innovation, entitled Unmet Social Needs in Singapore, highlighted shortcomings of our social safety net and identified six vulnerable groups, including the disabled and mentally ill. 
There are 131,000 disabled persons (3 per cent of the population, excluding those older than 64) in Singapore, according to the report Disability at a Glance 2010, by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. 
Singapore and Myanmar were the only two of the 10 South-east Asian countries that were not part of the "Ratification or signatory of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and its optional protocol". 
Like how National Service drilled into us not to leave a comrade behind, if Singapore wants to be a mature, progressive and all-inclusive society, we must, above all else, look after our less fortunate, including those who are not fully independent. 
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong set an example by donating his salary increase over the years to charity. Some Singaporeans have also shown the way by helping different voluntary welfare organisations, non-profit organisations and charities.
The Government has been helping the needy through the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS). 
But with the third-highest per capita GDP (ranked by the International Monetary Fund), we could show more of our Singapore Spirit and do more in terms of greater tax relief, grants/subsidies for services (public transport, developmental courses) or additional healthcare support. 
MCYS' Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016 for the disabled has a vision of "an inclusive Singapore where every person with disability can maximise his potential and is embraced as an integral member of our society". 
This would be heavily dependent on this year's Budget, to set the master plan off on the right footing. Singaporeans are anticipating an economic slowdown, which makes this year's Budget crucial. 
To quote from the Lien Centre report: "Meeting needs is a shared responsibility between the people and their government - a social contract". The principle of self-reliance as a social safety net, which might have been more valid in the past, needs a good re-examination.
The coming Budget is a great opportunity for the Government to reinvent itself, taking one not-so-small step towards a "new normal".
At a mere 3% of the total Singaporean population, the seemingly insignificant number is still a concern and cause for more attention in public service and financial aid. An essential note for policy makers is that the community affected by disability is not restricted to the 131, 000 individuals. Family members, caretakers, nurses, doctors, welfare organizations, volunteers and charities are all directly involved in the making of better lives for such individuals.

While a prevailing can-do attitude towards raising the accessibility standards in Singapore is admirable, the city planners have to do more to enable individuals with physical disabilities, who are afflicted with vision impairments, or are part of the growing group of elderly above 65, to enjoy a barrier-free lifestyle. Societal attitudes towards the elderly and disabled are also hindering the lifestyle of this disadvantaged group. 

Communities should provide an environment that provides more activities and opportunities for involvement for the physically disabled and elderly, so more would feel encouraged to lead a more active lifestyle. Enhancing the accessibility of local transit systems, public spaces and housing estates would enable more individuals to engage in life.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

13th International Conference on Computers Helping People with Special Needs

This conference basically sums up what the travel and tourism industry is missing in terms of accessibility. Hopefully more research can be done on how accessibility can add functional value to each city and boost tourism numbers. Figures on disability are lacking in the Asian Pacific region, making it difficult for the emerging markets of destinations like Singapore, China, Thailand, Hong Kong, Philippines and Indonesia.
Tourism and travel experiences are still highly restricted by physical accessibility barriers, such as: transportation constraints, inaccessible accommodation and tourism sites as well as information barriers such as a general lack of information or poorly designed web sites. The tourism industry has on the one hand neglected to provide information about accessibility and on the other hand to adopt inclusive design principles. This is because of lack of enforcement of statutory building regulations, lack of knowledge and misperception about disabled and elderly customers’ actual requirements, and social segregation and stereotype challenges of catering for disabled and elderly customers.

In addition the accessibility requiring market is significant in terms of size as well as spending power. It has been estimated that over 750 million people worldwide have some type of disability. The OSSATE project has estimated the number of people with accessibility requirements in Europe to almost 130 million, when including the elderly as there is a strong and positive correlation between ageing and disability. To address the accessibility requiring market and benefit from the multiplier effects generated by friends and relatives travelling with them tourism organisations and destinations should reassure accessibility in both their physical/built and on-line environments.

The Special Thematic Session on Accessible Tourism is organized to provide a forum to discuss major issues related to Accessible Tourism, to identify existing barriers as well as technologies, strategies and approaches to promote Accessible Tourism. The Accessible Tourism section of ICCHP invites papers from all aspects across a wide spectrum of Information and Communications Technologies and accessible tourism. The Special Thematic Session particularly invites tourism-hospitality-leisure related papers on usages of

eTourism and disability
Accessible Tourism websites and accessible Tourism Information Systems (TIS)
Accessibility information in modern TIS
Accessible Travel and Leisure holidays
Accessibility information / guidelines / audits for tourism products
Usability and user-interface studies
Economic evaluations of Accessible Tourism
Technologies and applications supporting Accessible Tourism
Universal Design and usability
Case studies of eTourism applications for the disabled markets, as well as
the usage of technology for facilitating disabled tourists before and during their visit are particularly welcome.

This conference is held during: July 11 - July 13, 2012.
A pre-conference is happening during July 09 - July 10, 2012.
Location: University of Linz, Altenbergerstra├če 69, 4040 Linz, Austria

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Accessibility and its Effects on Lifestyle

A noticeable difference in living and studying in Canada, is that I'm pleasantly surprised to see a numerable amount of students and teaching staff on campus in electric wheelchairs and scooters. Lecture halls and classrooms are designed so lowered desks can allow a person and his mobility device to fit comfortably around it. The doors of every entrance and bathroom have automated mechanisms that open at the touch of a elbow-height button, so they do not require someone to be present in order to hold the doors open. Public transit buses in Canada are venerable modes of transport that are the closest modern-day likeliness of a Transformer: seats flanking both sides of the aisles at the front of the bus can be folded up and down to allow more floor space, while height adjustable air suspensions allow the bus to "kneel" down so users can make an easier transition from curb to vehicle.

A wheelchair or scooter user would have to sit at the front in this lecture hall, assuming that there are wheelchair accessible ramps. Hard to not pay attention in every class, huh?

In Singapore, rarely do you see students using mobility aids attending a public institution. The few times that I've ever seen a student using a basic manual wheelchair, are usually the product of a fractured knee from a basketball game or some other temporary injury. These individuals always required the assistance of a fellow student or instructor to navigate from building to building, curb to ground, across walkways, away from drains and out of school gates. So where does this leave those with chronic physically disabilities? 

Since regular educational facilities do not have the universal design elements to cater to their needs, "special" schools are built to accommodate such students. Students of all ages, with either physical, cognitive or mental disabilities, are grouped together based on their requirement for an environment that is different from the public norm. Here, you have a segregation of people according to their physical capabilities -- intelligence, creativity, dedication and aptitude notwithstanding. Using assisted mechanisms or amenities of proper design to facilitate one's mobility does not necessarily make one much less of a student, worker, parent, friend or human being.

Thus, physically disabled students in Singapore attend schools that are not necessarily the closest to home or in their neighborhood. While they are designated to specific locations to receive their lessons, the very lessons that ought to be no different than what is taught to their able-bodied peers in regular collegiates, this separation undermines their ability to integrate into normal society and experience the life, hobbies and friends that come with a standard school setting.

So for how long do people with physical disabilities have to endure a lifestyle with restricted choice? Limiting these individuals' experiences and options on where to go, what to do and the things to see is an erosion of their natural rights. Treating them as a different class will only continue the pervasion of idea that people with physical disabilities are capable of less; the only places fit for people in electric wheelchairs or motorized scooters are "special" institutes for the young (usually meant to help those with learning disabilities) while adults are treated like retirees, abandoned at "Assistive Nursing Homes" when  many are able to acquire training and knowledge for just about any skilled profession.

The arrow indicates designated access. This however, does not amount to universal accessibility.

Accessibility and the freedom of choice is a right every person should enjoy. More organizations (not just welfare societies) and businesses in Singapore should aim for the proper development and promotion of universal accessibility, instead of designating access to only specific locations, services or buildings. Making choices available, convenient and functional for everyone, would mean a society where people with and without physical disabilities can enjoy the same number of options. In the spectrum of tourism and development, universal access would allow local citizens as well as international visitors to navigate and live comfortably in Singapore with a measure of freedom, dignity and independence.

Disability Etiquette for Service Professionals

Given that more visitors are coming to Singapore, and restaurants, hotels, transport services and businesses are due to receive a more colorful mix of clients, front-line staff are bound to encounter individuals with a physical disability at some point in their line of work.

On top of presenting quality customer service, staff would have to ensure such individuals are treated in a way where their experience would not end up as a vehement Tripadvisor critique of the Singaporean's lack of sensibility towards disabled people.

A key thing to remember is that while these individuals may face difficulties, it is necessary to remember that the physical challenges they face are already social stigmas that attracts unwanted attention. Distracting as it may be, you can eliminate unnecessary embarrassment or awkwardness for yourself (in case you appear ignorant, unhelpful or worse, useless) by being professional and taking responsible direction to approach the individual. You may be afraid to approach him/her, but remember that by avoiding addressing your customer, he/she would feel more conscious of their physical impediments.

With or without specialized training, service professionals should take the initiative to accommodate individuals with physical disabilities. One might ask this man waiting in a Thai airport if he needs assistance in locating his belongings or clearing through customs.

Progressive service employers would have already taught you to be the first to greet your audience, so take the initiative to give the visitor a warm welcome. This would allow him or her to feel more comfortable in your presence, and allow them to advance along their service/tourist experience in your commercial space. You already know the importance of making the customer feel appreciated, so even if they are not patronizing your services, there is no harm in making them feel honored as a welcome guest in Singapore.

Accessibility need not be restricted to the design of products or the built environment. It is important to incorporate a level of humanistic sensibility into your representation of your employer and country's social awareness for disabilities. Be sure that your language is also respectful and considerate; there is no need to treat these persons as fragile invalids. While mobility aid-users may require additional assistance, they only seek to be treated normally like other guests. Do not make them feel more vulnerable than they already are. 

Always acknowledge them as a man/woman first (Good evening Sir/Miss), a welcome guest (Welcome to our hotel), and then address your concerns for their interests and needs in your boutique, bar or B&B (Would you require assistance checking into a room tonight?).

Here is a useful guide on using the right language and etiquette when encountering physically disabled individuals in the service line:

Word Choice

  • When referring to someone with a disability, put the person first. Say “person with a disability” or “man with epilepsy” rather than “a disabled person,” “an epileptic man,” etc. People with disabilities are people first.
  • Avoid dropping the word “person” altogether - don't say “the disabled,” “an epileptic,” etc. A person is not a condition or a disease.
  • Don't hesitate to use figures of speech that include words like “see,” “hear,” “walk,” etc. It is appropriate to ask a person who uses a wheelchair if they want to go for a walk. It is also okay to ask a person who is blind if they saw a movie. Don't say “wheelchair bound” or “confined to a wheelchair.” People who use wheelchairs often consider them liberating, not confining. The preferred term is “using a wheelchair.”
  • Don't say “crippled,” “victim,” “stricken with,” “suffers from.” All of these have negative connotations. They also make great assumptions. People with disabilities don't always suffer or feel like victims.
  • Don't say “handicapped” unless you are referring to a specific barrier, like stairs. That is the proper context for using the term.
  • Phrases like “physically challenged,” “handicapable,” “otherly able” are vague and weak in meaning. “People with disabilities” tells it like it is.

Customer Service

  • Treat people with disabilities with respect. Speak directly to the person with a disability. If you are providing service in a restaurant or store, don't ask her companion what she would like for dinner or what size she wears.
  • Don't provide assistance without asking first whether or not it is needed. If the person accepts your offer, allow him to explain how best to help.
  • Don't lean on a person's wheelchair or hover over her. If you are exchanging more than a few words, sit down if possible, so that the person can more comfortably look you in the eye without straining her neck.
  • When you greet a person who is blind, identify yourself and anyone with you. Also, be sure to let him know when you are walking away.
  • Never grab the arm of a person who is blind and try to lead her. If you want to help, first ask if she would like assistance, and then allow her to take your arm.
  • If the person has a hearing disability, use a gentle touch on the arm to get his attention. Look directly at the person as you speak, and don't cover your mouth or eat while doing so. Do not shout. Written notes can facilitate communication.
  • If the person has a speech disability, don't try to rush her or finish her sentences. Don't pretend you understand her if you don't really know what she is saying. If you are having trouble understanding a particular word or phrase, ask her to say it in a different way.

Where are the Statistics?

Our robust tourism industry is a huge economic pillar for this country. Singapore boasts itself as the South East Asian region's leading destination of choice, by pioneering a strong business environment for the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, Exhibitions) sector while attracting leisure tourists with the Uniquely Singapore campaign.

A section of the landmark Singapore River, along the romantic Clarke Quay at night

With a 5.7% share of the Asian Pacific region's tourism receipts (versus our region's top competitor, China, at 18.4%) the Singapore Tourism Board understands the stakes the tourism industry holds for the national economy. Not only must this country maintain itself as a powerful tourism hub for both leisure and business travelers, Singapore has to attract and retain the right talents in order to drive this industry to more growth. 

A 2015 target set by the STB aims to employ 250,000 people. This means that the forerunners (frontline staff) and planners of the tourism industry need to consider the 15% year-on-year growth of international visitors. Market trends are leaning towards more visitors from expanding South East Asian markets like Indonesia and China, while traditional markets are growing at smaller rates (US, +7.7%), or shrinking (UK, -7.0%).

While this creates great excitement for Singapore's tourism, we have to look at how we are going to progress as a nation. Implementing better signage in a multitude of languages, expanding walkways along the shopping districts and maintaining a transport system that offers longer and more frequent schedules. Incorporating more is advantageous and an it seems like an obviously sound response to the growing number of visitors.

However, a key issue when considering the developments in public facilities, is the quality of planning and design. Instead of asking "how can we maximize the public use of this space?", we need to look at how we can optimize this facility's function for as many people as possible. It's not about the quantity of what you can fit inside a box, but how flexible the box is so that it can carry a variety of different materials.

That is the biggest cardboard box I've ever seen, and one can technically put in anything up to 150 pounds. However, do you think the volume of this box is able to compensate for the permeability of cardboard, especially if you fit in 150 liters of water?

This leads to understanding the needs of disabled travelers. In Singapore, there is a lack of literature regarding adult disability rates. A discussion report by Daniel Mont of The World Bank says that majority of countries lack proper census measures of people who are disabled, including those who use mobility aids. This inadequate measure of knowledge in the prevalence of disabled people (mainly mobility aid users) would affect the ability for national developers, businesses and hospitality service providers from meeting the needs of both disabled travelers and local citizens.

If we don't assess the prevalence of individuals in Singapore living with such unique requirements, we do not know who to ask and where to understand what the right accessibility needs are. Not only is there a lack of awareness, but there is no knowledge of what we should be aware of. Any standards we are meeting are only assumed based on the footing of allowing for more, instead of allowing for most. Thus, this country will continue to develop with dynamic growth, without ever achieving the prime elements of universal design.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Disabled Access for Facilities in Singapore (Hotels)

For people using mobility aids, here is an excellent guide published by SingaporeMedicine listing:
  1. Hospitals
  2. Hotels 
  3. Concert Halls
  4. Places of Interest
  5. Shopping Centers and 
  6. Transport Services 
What this simple guide provides is a table chart identifying the accessible features available at a list of facilities, divided into each of the 6 categories above.

This blog mainly concentrates on identifying accessible areas for physically disabled individuals, namely, those who require the use of mobility aids (electric wheelchairs or scooters). Please click on the guide (pdf format) to find facilities with amenities that provide a. braille numbers for the visually-impaired, b. signal equipment for hearing impaired, and more.

It is an extensive guide, but I will simplify the guide's list of options by listing the facilities/places that have identified with accessibility features across all areas of the building. This means that there are more options to service your medical, entertainment or hospitality needs. They have not been included in this blog, as they do not feature complete accessible features throughout its entire building.

For this post, I have selected and compiled information from the guide's Hotel category. In this section, the building areas that are accessible to wheelchair and ambulant-disabled individuals are marked across:
  1. the main entrance
  2. reserved parking lots for disabled people
  3. accessible lifts/elevators
  4. suitable rooms
  5. attached bathrooms
  6. public toilets 
  7. accessible facilities for the disabled: single/double
This is how the guide is spread out in a page of the Hotels section.

I've listed the address of hotels that are marked "Accessible to wheelchair and ambulant disabled" across  all sections. This will ensure accessible areas across all the 7 listed sections above. There is also more information regarding accessibility for wheelchair and ambulant disabled in additional areas of the hotel, such as their business center, swimming pool, shopping arcade or restaurant. 

The hotels' star ratings have been included, and they have also been further split into 2 groups, hotels with business center facilities that can be accessible to people using mobility aids, and those that do not have accessible business centers. The phone number is included as well as the hotel's mailing address. While these hotels will have complete accessibility throughout the hotel, they are a minimum of 4 stars. If this is not within your price range, you can still locate any of the other hotels listed within the SingaporeMedicine guide. Keep in mind that hotels from the guide not listed would mean a person with physical disabilities may require assistance accessing any one of the 7 features listed earlier.

With accessible Business Center Facilities

Conrad Centennial Singapore (5 stars)
2 Temasek Boulevard Singapore 039982 Tel: (65) 6334 8888

Four Seasons Hotel Singapore (5 stars)
130 Orchard Boulevard Singapore 248646 Tel: (65) 6734 1110

Furama Riverfront Singapore (4 stars)
405 Havelock Road Singapore 169633 Tel: (65) 6733 2081

Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel Singapore (5 stars)
392 Havelock Road Singapore 169663 Tel: (65) 6733 0880

Grand Mercure Roxy Hotel (4 stars)
50 East Coast Road Roxy Square Singapore 428769 Tel: (65) 6344 8000

Grand Plaza Parkroyal (4 stars)
10 Coleman Street Singapore 179809 Tel: (65) 6336 3456

M Hotel Singapore (4 stars)
81 Anson Road Singapore 079908 Tel: (65) 6224 1133

Meritus Negara Singapore (4 stars)
10 Claymore Road Singapore 229540 Tel: (65) 6737 0811

Shangri-La Hotel Singapore (5 stars)
22 Orange Grove Road Singapore 258350 Tel: (65) 6737 3644

Singapore Marriott Hotel (5 stars)
320 Orchard Road Singapore 238865 Tel: (65) 6735 5800

The Elizabeth (4 stars)
24 Mount Elizabeth Singapore 228518 Tel: (65) 6738 1188

The Gallery Hotel (4 stars)
76 Robertson Road Singapore 238254 Tel: (65) 6849 8686

Traders Hotel Singapore (4 stars)
1A Cuscaden Road Singapore 249716 Tel: (65) 6738 2222

Without accessible Business Center Facilities

Albert Court Hotel (4 stars)
180 Albert Street Singapore 189971 Tel: (65) 6339 3939

Changi Village Hotel (4 stars)
1 Netheravon Road Singapore 508502 Tel: (65) 6379 7111

Hotel Rendezvous Singapore (4 stars)
9 Bras Basah Road Singapore 189559 Tel: (65) 6336 0220

The Fullerton Hotel (5 stars)
1 Fullerton Square Singapore 049178 Tel: (65) 6733 8388

The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore (5 stars)
7 Raffles Avenue Singapore 039799 Tel: (65) 6337 8888

For arriving international travelers, Changi Airport recommends that passengers request their airline directly for wheelchair services and a minder at the time of flight booking or during check in.

Singapore's Changi Airport is expansive, but getting between any one of the three Terminals requires only a short 1-4 minutes on the SkyTrain, which operates daily from 5am to 2.30am. The SkyTrain arrives at frequent 1-3 minute intervals.

Wheelchairs are also available for rent at the airport at $15 per hour from any one of their medical centres. To contact Raffles Medical Group for a Wheelchair Rental, you can call (65) 6543 1118. Below are where you can find their clinics to access wheelchairs or medical services.

Terminal 1
Raffles Medical Group at Departure Transit Lounge West, Level 2
(65) 6543 1113 - open 24 hours daily

Terminal 2
Raffles Medical Group at Departure Transit Lounge North, Level 2 
(65) 6546 3815 - open 6.00am - midnight
Raffles Medical Group at Basement South, Public Area 
(65) 6543 1118 - open Monday to Friday: 8.30am – 5.30pm

Terminal 3
Raffles Medical Group at Departure Transit Lounge North, Level 2 
(65) 6241 8333 - open 6.00am - midnight

Raffles Medical Group at Basement 2 South, Public Area 
(65) 6241 8818 - open 24 hours daily

Getting from Changi Airport to your hotel or accommodation is made simple with Ground Transport Desks, located in the arrival halls of each terminal. These desks will handle all transportation requests and queries. They have both 24 hour desks and hotline - (65) 6241 3818. A taxi ride from the airport to the central area of the city would take roughly 25 minutes in smooth traffic. Singapore's modern and clean taxi services also boasts fleets of London-style maxicabs, limosines, and vans. To be safe, you can call ahead to ask for suitable transport that will fit your motorized scooter or electric wheelchair's width.

Other tips:

  • Any passenger caught on Singaporean roads without a seatbelt will subject the driver to a fine, so remember to buckle up for safety.
  • It is not necessary to tip in Singapore, and taxi drivers also add a surcharge for pickups from the airport.