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Writing a New Chapter on Inclusivity

Posted on | 30 Jun 2023

Hero Image of electric bus with pantograph charger

At 16 years old, most teenagers would be thronging the malls with their friends.

Not Dr Navin Nair from LTA’s Active Mobility Enforcement (AMEF) Division. He was working on a paper to the Ministry of Transport (MOT), requesting greater accessibility for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) on public transport.

“My childhood and growing up years were not the same as everyone else,” he says. Born prematurely, after just six and a half months in the womb, Navin has cerebral palsy, a motor disorder which limits the movements of his limbs. Running, jumping and playing with friends—the usual things a child would do—were impossible for him as he moves around with either a wheelchair or rollator.

From the age of six, he found himself not at the playground, but attending courses at Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs), deep in conversation with adults a decade or two older than himself. He learned all he could from them, and became well-versed in universal design principles.

Photo of Dr Navin in Secondary 1, at Si Ling Sec School with his Principal
Photo of Dr Navin in Secondary 1, at Si Ling Sec School with his Principal

By his teenage years, he had gone from questioning why he was different to wondering how he could make a difference.

Refusing to “please, mind the gap”

Public transport seemed the best place to start because, “if Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) don’t have the right transport, they can’t do many things.”

Back in 2003, when Navin began reaching out to MOT, it was a struggle getting to school. His parents weren’t always free to ferry him, and although he could take a taxi, the cost of recurrent rides began to add up.

He took his chances on public transport. Those were the days before wheelchair-accessible buses. Without ramps, he had to hold on to the bus door as his helper loaded his rollator on board. The MRT was no easier.

“The wheel of the rollator tended to get stuck in the gap, so you needed agility to carry it across the platform… it’s not easy with a crowd” he explains. Before each train ride, Navin would approach the Passenger Service Centre for a staff member’s help. The staff member would assist him to board the train, especially during peak hours, and inform the arriving station so they, too, could send someone to assist him alight.

“I was hoping the situation would improve when, it suddenly hit me that I’m looking for change, waiting for change—but what am I doing to make it happen?” he said.

Giving PWDs a voice

So began his engagement with MOT, LTA, and public transport operators where Navin and his friends advocated for making our transport system more accessible to PWDs.

In 2006, Singapore’s first wheelchair bus hit the roads. Navin continued to share his feedback in focus groups to give ideas and trial new technology for a universally-accessible system.

For example, in 2017, when automatic ramps were mooted as a solution to speed up the bus boarding process, it was Navin and his team who pointed out that the ramp might be too high or steep for PWDs to navigate, and drivers would still need to physically assist.

Trials proved them right, which is why, Navin says: “It’s very important that anything planned for persons with disabilities must include PWDs’ views . You will not get the essence of what it is like to move in a wheelchair until you have actually sat in one!”

Navin’s rallying cry for accessibility has been heard across numerous focus groups conducted by LTA. His voice, together with the united efforts of the PWD community, has enabled LTA to improve the transport system and infrastructure for PWDs in Singapore.

From 2020, all public buses are wheelchair accessible. All MRT and LRT stations are also barrier-free. This is progress that Navin feels is “remarkable” and the public agrees. In recognition of his work in championing for inclusivity, he was awarded the 2022 Goh Chok Tong Enable Awards (GCTEA) in Dec 2022.

Photo of Dr Navin receiving the GCTEA (UBS Promise) Award  with President Halimah Yacob (left) and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong (right)
Photo of Dr Navin receiving the GCTEA (UBS Promise) Award with President Halimah Yacob (left) and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong (right)
The good fight continues

Accomplishments aside, Navin’s interest in transport and his desire to continuously better the lives of PWDs led him to officially join LTA in the AMEF division since 2022.

Photo of Dr Navin with the AMEF team at LTA
Photo of Dr Navin with the AMEF team at LTA

The AMEF enforces rules and engages the public to promote safe and gracious path sharing. This involves educating active mobility device users— such as those on bicycles, power-assisted bicycles, personal mobility devices and personal mobility aids (PMAs)—and other path users on the do’s and don’ts while on public paths. It also entails working with agencies and stakeholders on community outreach.

Similar to working with focus groups on public transport innovations, Navin taps on his personal experiences, and shares the perspectives of other PMA users in the area of active mobility which he gleans from staying well connected with the disabled community. His work helps LTA better understand the unique needs of PMA users, and the impact that each policy change can make to improve their lives.

Being a PWD himself means Navin plays a crucial role in helping to improve accessibility in his workplace too, by giving feedback in areas like enhancing handicap toilet features and fire drill procedures for persons in wheelchair.

After all, as he aptly puts it: “It is only when you have the right infrastructure, the right mindset and the right support systems, that you have an outcome that is desirable for PWDs.” While the journey may never end, Navin is committed to stay the course and write a new chapter for future PWDs.

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