Every one of us have to go through education and as such, going to school is an integral part of our life. Most of us get to choose where we want to study from a variety of different schools. However for the Wheelchair bound, the lack of wheelchair friendly facilities and their personal special needs significantly narrows down the choices of schools which he can attend. The major problem in schools lies in the lack of wheelchair friendly facilities like ramps, lifts, special study or canteen tables, etc.
In Singapore, one or two schools are designated in each cluster to be barrier free, specially catering to the wheelchair bound. As for the other schools in the area, having barrier-free compounds is apparently not a priority, yet. Though schools are starting to be more wheelchair friendly, efforts have been half hearted and it seems like they do it for the sake of putting up with a good image of embracing the wheelchair bound.
There are a few signs from which we can tell.
Ramps built are limited to a few areas in the school only. They are supposedly built in “strategic” areas so that one ramp can cover a large radius but it is often neglected that it means more traveling and unnecessary detours for the wheelchair bound. It is human nature to pick the shortest route and to deprive the wheelchair bound the freedom to do this is of great inconvenience and frustration to them.
Some of the ramps are too steep. In order to cut down on the unsightly zigzags or layering, school take the short cut by building steeper ramps. Too steep a ramp and the wheelchair bound might not be able to push themselves up, unless with the help of a friend. That cannot be used as an excuse as friends cannot be with the guy on the wheelchair all the time. The acceptable gradient of a ramp is 1:12. In other words, a 10cm increase in height would mean a 120 cm increase in the horizontal length of the slope.
In many schools, if there are no wheelchair bound students, the handicap toilets would be converted to cleaners’ store or storage rooms without much deliberation. The school management usually does not do anything about it unless there is really a disabled student who needs it. This shows that schools are ignorant to the possible needs of the wheelchair bound. Even if none of the student needs it, it should not be allowed to be conveniently changed into something else which defeats its original purpose. Though the toilet can be cleared in time if needed, the initial action of messing the place up already implies that the school is half hearted with its efforts.
Classroom doors are also a major problem in schools. Some schools have doors that are barely 1.2m wide. Furthermore, the doors have the auto shut feature, making it very difficult for the wheelchair bound to pull it open when sitting in their wheelchair. Imagine sitting on a wheelchair and having to push or pull the door to a full 90 degrees before being able to enter the room!
More documentation of problems would be included in our case study, a site exploration in our own school, Raffles Institution.