A woman in a wheelchair recently posted a video on Facebook showing what it is like from her perspective living on a non lift access level in a HDB flat with narrow corridors.
In a four-minute-long video uploaded on 8 March, Facebook user Cocoanna Christian showcases her daily struggles in navigating around her place of residence in Block 906, located along Jurong West Street 91.
The video she shared clearly depicts the haunting reality of her ordeal, as she carefully rolls her wheelchair through the narrow corridors while trying her best to stay clear of the obstacles – plants, footwears, and clothing rack – that are in her way.
According to Ms Cocoanna, the plight of having to go through her very own ‘HDB-obstacles-course’ prevented her from going out much in the last six years since she had gotten sick.
However, she stated that she now has to travel out on alternate days for her blood dialysis treatment.
When asked by concerned netizens if there was any attempt in reaching out to the neighbours and local authorities, Ms Cocoanna noted that some of her neighbours are nice and accommodating, while some of them just don’t care.
She also said that she wrote to her Member of Parliament (MP) – People’s Action Party’s (PAP) Ang Wei Neng – a few weeks back, and visited him last Monday (15 Mar) to speak about her situation. She added that the Housing & Development Board (HDB) replied via her MP saying that there is no plan for lift upgrading at her floor.
As for the local town council, Ms Cocoanna mentioned that they did visit the units that had objects unbefittingly placed along the common corridors at her place of residence. She was told that the tenants agreed to make the necessary changes to comply with the standard rulings.
However, as of last Wednesday night (17 Mar), she observed very minimal changes have been made along the corridors.
“Still trying to cut through all the red tapes”
A week has gone by yet Ms Cocoanna’s plight does not seem to show any sign of easing up.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday (24 Mar), she said that she is “still trying to cut through all the red tapes” in finding the best solution to her situation.
While many have suggested for lift upgrading to be done, Ms Cocoanna reiterated that the HDB “keep rejecting” the notion, adding that her former and current MP – PAP’s Yee Chia Hsing and Ang Wei Neng respectively – both dismissed the idea as well.
According to her, they gave excuses such as budget constraints and residents’ convenience. She claimed that they even told her to move house.
“I know people will say, ask for Lift Upgrade. But HDB keep rejecting, from my ex MP Mr Yee’s time… to now new MP Mr Ang. Giving a lot of excuses like LUP budget issues, will bock other residents’ house views, blah, blah, blah. Then tell me to move house.”
Hence, Ms Cocoanna noted that the easier option would be for her to get the common corridors cleared of any obstacle, and acquire an electric wheelchair so she may be able to go for her dialysis sessions by herself – as she is unable to rely on her aging husband.
“So the easier option is just to clear the corridor, let me get an electric wheelchair to be self independent to go for dialysis sessions myself. I can’t depend on my husband who is getting old and very forgetful due to his own mental state.”
She went on to say that her occupational therapist had tested her, and given her the green light to get an electric wheelchair – which is now in the state of processing.
Ms Cocoanna also stated that she did her part in reaching out to her downstairs neighbour, in which she now has a space outside the unit reserved for her to park her soon-to-be-acquired electric wheelchair. She shared that her neighbour was understanding of her situation as his mother is also in a wheelchair.
To avoid any confusion, it is noteworthy that Ms Cocoanna lives on the seventh floor of the building, which has no lift access.
In order for her to access the lift in her block, she would have to make her way to the central lift area by going through the common corridor either on the sixth or eighth floor.
At the moment, Ms Cocoanna’s neighbour on the sixth floor is kind enough to allow her to park her future electric wheelchair outside of his unit, as seen in the picture above.
However, she does not share the same fortune with her neighbours on the eighth floor.
According to Ms Cocoanna, her upstairs neighbours occupying the corner unit have placed big cupboards close to the staircase. She noted that the reason behind this is because they typically host big gatherings of 20 to 30 people on weekends for overnight mahjong sessions.
She added that there were instances prior to the pandemic where up to three tables were placed along the common corridor to cater for the large crowd.
“You can see that it’s hard to even turn the corner at my #08 unit. They put such big cupboards leading to my staircase too. Why? Mainly because they always have big gathering of 20-30 paxs on weekends for overnight mahjong sessions. Sometimes up to 3 tables in the past before Covid hits. The kids will be bored and jumping around the unit all nights too. I have learnt to endure by putting on a headset living here since I moved in 15 years ago.”
Moving on, Ms Cocoanna said that she had written to the West Coast Town Council (WCTC) asking if she is able to pull a cable from her unit on the seventh floor to charge her electric wheelchair which would be parked on the sixth floor. If that is not permissible, she even suggested the possibility of having an electric power point installed.
Unlike some cases where residents’ complaints and queries were left unanswered or unacknowledged, she did receive a written reply from Lim Kiew Hong, who is the Assistant General Manager at the WCTC.
However, Ms Cocoanna was told that the WCTC is unable to accede to her request pertaining to the installation of the power point at the staircase on the sixth floor.
“This is attributed to the fact that charging of mobility device at common property is strictly prohibited due to fire safety reasons,” as stated in the letter.
Following this, she decided to appeal to her MP, Mr Ang Wei Neng, and was once again given the thumbs down.
“Anyway, I wrote in to TC. I need to charge my wheelchair for daily usage. Can I pull a cable from my unit to charge, or install a point for charging? The TC asst manager rejected. So I went through my MP to appeal. Now again, rejected.”
Ms Cocoanna went on to lament her frustration having gone through several individuals and organisations yet end up back to square one.
She stressed that she is not doing all this “for fun”, as she needs to go out for her blood dialysis treatment. She also expressed how risky it would be for her to leave her electric wheelchair in an open space.
“Interesting, HDB cannot lift upgrade, TC cannot let me charge my electric wheelchair… then how? Can install a cinema-type of lever to bring my wheelchair to my unit or not? That is under which department huh? I’m not getting this for fun okay, I need to go out for my dialysis sessions. You think I want to put my electric wheelchair in open space like that meh? Not cheap you know. Even dialysis centre staff told us to be careful coz some electric wheelchairs does get stolen too.”
Subsequently, Ms Cocoanna said that the last resort for her case is not to get an electric wheelchair, but instead to apply to the Ministry of Health (MOH) for funding to acquire a private wheelchair provider.
She stated that based on a recent check from her new friend at the dialysis centre, the cost for a private wheelchair provider is about S$600 per month. That sums up to S$7,200 for one whole year.
Ms Cocoanna once again gave voice to her frustration, as she called out the Government for expecting her to fork out money for expensive services instead of helping her to solve such a small issue with the electric power point at her place of residence.
She also questioned the efficiency of the Government, asserting that even without a degree qualification she knows how to solve problems, while the highly-educated Government officials are unable to solve simple problems but rather create more problems.
“I am trying to be independent and self sufficient, yet your own officers are just sabotaging your system by rejecting me on SOP basis. Really lor, even me without a degree knows how to problem solve, why your govt highly educated staff don’t even how to simple problem solving but just creating more problems for your other government system? Got IQ no EQ or SQ, is it? Or just pushing the buck to one another as usual? You all are healthy, can keep playing ‘push the pen game’. I’m not, I just want to survive.”
Ms Cocoanna concluded her post saying that her intention is not to complain or shame anyone, but simply to highlight the harsh reality of her situation in Singapore, particularly in dealing with the red tapes in the system.
She noted that she welcomes any ideas from fellow Singaporeans and residents on what she ought to do next.
“Again, I’m not complaining or shaming anyone. I’m just talking about the systems and SOP/red tapes. Just sharing the truths and facts about my life as a common SG folk. I welcome more ideas from my fellow Singaporeans and residents here. What will you do if you are in my situation? I’m running out of ideas as my health is getting worse. Tired lah, need all the other experts to give me tips lah! Anyone?”