SINGAPORE: The Social and Family Development Ministry (MSF) has clarified the revised criteria of a scheme concerning car park labels for persons with disabilities, after a Facebook post by national para-power lifter and personal trainer Kalai Vanen went viral.
On Thursday (Aug 3), a MSF spokesperson told Channel NewsAsia that under the new eligibility criteria, car park labels will be issued to those “who are medically certified as having physical disabilities and require additional space to board and alight from their vehicles".
The spokesperson added that those with medical conditions such as muscular dystrophy, poliomyelitis and cerebral palsy can also apply for the labels based on their condition and needs.
The ministry had previously announced that the Car Park Label Scheme would be revised from Nov 1 amid “rising demand for accessible lots” and an almost 40 per cent increase of new car park label holders since 2012, accelerated by Singapore’s ageing population.
It stated that “only persons with disabilities who use bulky mobility aids such as wheelchairs and walking frames will be eligible for accessible car park lots".
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Mr Kalai - who lost his left leg to cancer - expressed concern that those using non-bulky mobility aids like crutches may no longer be able to park in accessible lots. His post had been shared more than 1,400 times as of Friday.
"That (the new ruling) leaves people like me who are using crutches out, people with polio, cerebral palsy sufferers ... that's the reason why I posted on Facebook," the 58-year-old told Channel NewsAsia, adding that the car park labels were “very useful for people who really need them".
"I'm quite a strong person actually, large shoulders, arms, I train a lot," he said. “But walking with a pair of crutches is not easy, getting to where I want to go. Walking around car parks is also very tough for me."
In response to queries from Channel NewsAsia, Nominated Member of Parliament Chia Yong Yong also said that excluding people using non-bulky mobility aids “would leave some people with disabilities exposed to greater risk of falls and impede their mobility”.
She said: "We hope the authorities would clarify whether the revision to the Car Park Label Scheme would fully exclude people using non-bulky mobility aids, or if there would be exceptions made that would give due consideration to the varying conditions of those with mobility impairments."
"BREAKDOWN IN COMMUNICATION"
On Thursday afternoon, the ministry contacted Mr Vanen, informing him that he was, in fact, still eligible for the car label.
"They said people with prosthetic legs, or prostheses, (were) one of the categories - (which) would include me using crutches," he said. "But if I were just reading it off the board I wouldn't know. That's what upsets my other friends. Some could be eligible actually, but because of the breakdown in communication, people don't get it."
Volunteer welfare organisations (VWOs) Channel NewsAsia spoke to agreed that the authorities could do more to better clarify the eligibility criteria and the overall policy as a whole.
"The reason for this, I think, shock or anger, is because everyone was taken by surprise," said Nicholas Aw, President of the Disabled People’s Association.
“No one saw it coming. If, before they implemented this policy, they had called the VWOs to say 'guys, can we explain to you what's going to happen', the VWOs would be able to disseminate the information to their members."
As part of the review, MSF and the Ministry of National Development had “consulted existing Class 1 and 2 label holders as well as VWOs such as Handicaps Welfare Association, Disabled Persons Association and SPD”, the ministry said.
“There was general agreement that we should reserve the accessible lots for persons with disabilities who require the additional space to board and alight from their vehicles and are therefore more in need of such lots," said MSF.
But while Mr Aw acknowledged that there were consultations, he said that it was "perhaps not enough".
MSF said on Thursday that it will "work with the VWOs to provide greater clarity to persons with disabilities on the revisions to the scheme".
"MSF is also prepared to consider any deserving cases who may require the Class 1 label given their condition, even if they do not fully meet the default eligibility criteria," it added.
In response, Mr Kalai said he applauded MSF for "acknowledging the ambiguity in the eligibility for the disabled parking label and recognising the need to include people with other medical and health impairments".
He said: "Though I may have been not personally affected by the last announcement the intent of my feedback was to highlight the possible impact on other disabled drivers and those with other medical conditions."