CASE STUDY

A Shared Space to Bring Together People With and Without Disabilities

Architectural firm WOHA turned a wheelchair-unfriendly courtyard with steep slopes into an inclusive amphitheatre with a gentle, uninterrupted ramp. Photo credit: Chan Hao Ong
Architectural firm WOHA turned a wheelchair-unfriendly courtyard with steep slopes into an inclusive amphitheatre with a gentle, uninterrupted ramp. Photo credit: Chan Hao Ong

Singapore has built a community space dedicated to integrating persons with disabilities in society by providing them with training and employment opportunities, while ensuring that it is an inclusive space that promotes interaction among people of all abilities.

Overview

Persons with disabilities face many challenges, such as difficulty getting around, being unable to find jobs or getting hired for unsuitable jobs. To support these individuals in their bid to lead independent and fulfilling lives, the Ministry of Social and Family Development and SG Enable, a government-supported agency, created the Enabling Village in 2015. But instead of creating an exclusive space, they designed and built a village that is open and inclusive to all.


Project snapshot

  • 2 Dec 2015: Official opening
  • S$25 million (~$18.5 million)
  • Planning and design
    • SG Enable and Ministry of Social and Family Development
    • WOHA
  • Management
    • SG Enable
  • Financing
    • Singapore government
    • Tote Board
    • Community Chest
    • Singapore Technologies Engineering
    • Singapore Telecommunications
    • United Overseas Bank
    • Lien Foundation
    • SBF Foundation
    • Standard Charted Bank
    • Sunray Woodcraft Construction
    • WOHA

Challenges

Singapore launched its first Enabling Masterplan in 2007. This was a five-year roadmap that guided the development of policies, programmes, services and other support for persons with disabilities. Since then, Singapore has signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, has released its third edition of the Enabling Masterplan.

These commitments have led to greater inclusion changes. For instance, all new developments must now have Universal Design features like wider corridors, ramp access or toilets with grab bars. Government funds are available for employers to defray the costs of purchasing equipment such as assistive technology and adapting the workplace for persons with disabilities. Hearing-impaired students who can sign will also be eligible for mainstream education from 2018.

The idea of creating a dedicated space to further support persons with disabilities was mooted in 2013.

Ku Geok Boon, Chief Executive Officer of SG Enable, said: “Our vision was not just to transform the physical environment into one that is accessible to persons with disabilities. More importantly, we wanted to create a focal point of services that puts information, resources, training and employment opportunities within reach of persons with disabilities to enable them to lead independent lives.”

Solutions

Launched in December 2015, the Enabling Village is the first community space in Singapore dedicated to supporting persons with disabilities through a range of services and facilities.

Some of the key services at the Village include an Information and Career Centre that gives persons with disabilities employment advice and referrals, and a specialised training centre that prepares persons with autism for employment. Other training and job opportunities that are on site include an architectural design studio, food and beverage outlets, a supermarket, and a retail art gallery that features works by artists with special needs.

The supermarket in the Village has wider aisles that accommodate wheelchair users. Photo credit: Centre for Liveable Cities

The Village also has an assistive technology resource centre called Tech Able, which comprises a lab that trains persons with disabilities in communications and technology; an experiential room where light and sound are drastically reduced so users can experience challenges faced by persons with sight or hearing loss; and a showroom that allows people to borrow and try assistive tech devices to make informed purchase decisions.

SG Enable was conscious of the need to create an inclusive space that would promote integration and interaction among people of all abilities, instead of creating an isolated enclave. So it chose the grounds of a former school, in central Singapore, as the Village site. Conveniently located, the 30,000-square-metre compound is near a mass rapid transit (MRT) station, and surrounded by schools, homes, offices and senior activity centres.

Making sure that the entire Village was accessible for all was a key building principle. But this was not easy to achieve given the existing infrastructure and uneven terrain. “Behind a perimeter fence, a huge carpark and driveway separated the buildings from the surroundings…there were multiple level changes…between buildings and within buildings,” recalled Phua Hong Wei, an Associate at architectural firm WOHA. Spaces had to be extensively redesigned to link every building seamlessly and accessibly. All steps and thresholds were replaced with ramps, while lifts were installed. WOHA converted a courtyard with a steep slope into an amphitheatre by overlaying the terrain with a timber terrace. A gentle, uninterrupted ramp now weaves through the amphitheatre, allowing wheelchair users to navigate the slope easily.

Amenities have been designed to be inclusive too. For instance, event spaces, as well as the gym, are equipped with a “hearing induction loop” system, which transmits signals directly to hearing aids. Key signage such as the signs on toilet doors and staircase handrails have Braille lettering to help blind users move about independently.

Participants of the Australia-based Enabled Futures immersion programme during a tour of the Village. Photo credit: Matthew Johnson

Results

Even before the Village was built, SG Enable and its partners had already been offering training and employment to persons with disabilities. But now, the physical premises have brought SG Enable’s more than 20 private and public partners and their services under one roof. This means that persons with disabilities seeking information and resources, such as grants, no longer have to travel to disparate locations. Deaf photographer Isabelle Lim says: “It’s like a one-stop centre for persons with special needs.”

Timothy Ang manages BIM Studio, a non-profit architectural design and training studio for persons with disabilities. He says the Village’s location is a boon for his clients who often decline training or employment due to inaccessibility. Users of motorised wheelchairs can reach the MRT station in 15 minutes, via an unobstructed and sheltered pathway. SG Enable also has a free shuttle service to and from the station, which encourages trainees to attend BIM’s classes, as well as those conducted by other providers.

A class by BIM Studio, a non-profit architectural design and training studio for persons with disabilities. Photo credit: SG Enable

True to its original intention, the Village’s lush gardens, ponds, gazebos and activity spaces are now enjoyed by the public. Sheltered linkways to the MRT station and wet market encourage the public to walk through the Village, promoting integration and interaction.

With its mix of inclusive facilities such as the supermarket, preschool and fitness centre, as well as special events like weekend markets, the Village is slowly but surely becoming a space for all.

Resources

The Centre for Liveable Cities. (2017). Enabling Village: A Space for All. Urban Solutions, Issue 10: Living with Diversity. Published Jan 2017. The Centre for Liveable Cities, Singapore.

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   Singapore
   Last updated: October 2018



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