(these)abilities L.A.B #1.1: The MRT Platform Gap (Series 1 Session 1)

Posted by: theseabilities | in Projects | 1 year, 9 months ago | Comments

Don’t you think that taking the MRT is a breeze? Or that your biggest worry about taking the MRT is about whether you can get on the next train?

 For wheelchair users, taking the MRT is a whole other experience where there is a real fear of their wheels getting stuck whilst getting in and out of the train. Due to the varying gaps between trains and station platforms, wheelchair users have to improvise their entry/exit by doing things like “wheelies” or speeding towards the platform gap to build momentum.

Problem Identification

Through our online platform for Persons with Disabilities (PwDs), voices.theseabilities.com, we encouraged people from different disability communities to post their problems on a reddit-like forum where others could “support” or “disagree” with posted problems, offer solutions, or even just add onto the problem by sharing their own experiences. What was also known to them, was that solution providers were watching on the other end, ready to act on the significant problems if there wasn’t already a viable solution available.

The most significant problem that surfaced on voices.theseabilities.com for wheelchair users was the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Platform gap in which they either have had their wheels stuck in the gap or have a fear of it. This can be traumatising for most due to one of the following outcomes:

  • Falling off their wheelchair
  • Falling together with the wheelchair
  • Drawing huge attention
  • The fear that the doors might close on them & damaging their wheelchair.

 Problem Validation

Although we could understand the problem at hand, we had to validate the concern with wheelchair users on the ground, as well as what we call “curators”. “Curators” are people who have worked closely with multiple PwDs, have listened to ample problems they faced and made sense of them. Curators range from Occupational therapists, to Assistive Technology Specialists, to Disability Organisations & Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs), to caregivers.

The result we got was shocking: 90% of wheelchair users we spoke to told us that they had either gotten their wheels stuck in the train gaps, or have had a fear of it.

The gaps between the platform and train ranged anywhere between 36mm (with gap fillers) to 110mm depending which train station you were at. According to several wheelchair vendors, the average front wheel diameter was 177.8mm which did not seem like a problem, until one realises that the front wheels are swivel wheels meant to aid directionality of wheelchairs on everyday travels.

This means that the if wheelchair users did not have proper technique in entering/exiting the train, their front wheels had a possibility to swivel and be parallel to the gap in which the wheel is sure to fall in as the average thickness of swivel wheels are 47mm according to several wheelchair vendors.

However, the platform gap was not the only concern, as there is almost always a height differential between the platform and train which imposes somewhat of a “mini-curb” that wheelchair users have to overcome. This was the largest contributing factor to wheelchair users getting their wheels stuck although they had been trained proper form and technique by their occupational therapists.

 

According to our wheelchair respondents, the worse train stations were: Jurong East MRT, City Hall MRT and Clementi MRT.

(We have yet to measure the height differential, although we have the platform gap measurements)

 

Problem Framing

In order to frame this problem better, we sought out all stakeholders we felt had a part to play in the problem. They include:

  • SMRT train engineers
  • Occupational Therapists
  • Wheelchair vendors

We tried to understand the problem from each stakeholder’s perspective and find out why a solution has not been found or implemented. Some of the answers we got from the stakeholders were:

  • SMRT: Gap fillers had been introduced on newer trains whose design could accommodate such an add-on, as well as on above-the-ground train stations. Solutions fitted onto wheelchairs were completely out of their jurisdiction whilst having some sort of “automated ramp” to cover the gaps would be a long stretch for the train’s current algorithm to incorporate. Needless to say, they had other things to worry about like preventing another massive train breakdown (Disclaimer: SMRT train engineers are a hardworking bunch who check the status of trains and platforms VERY regularly).
  • Occupational Therapists: Anything other than teaching wheelchair users proper form and technique to get in and out of the train is completely out of their jurisdiction although they do their best to improvise on training when changes are made to the train set-up. Recommendations on types of wheelchairs suitable are also limited to what is brought in by the wheelchair vendors.
  • Wheelchair Vendors: Vendors only bring in wheelchair models which emphasize features like top speed, foldability and long lasting battery. So the specifications of the front swivel wheels (especially it’s thickness) might be something they overlooked. It is also crucial to note that the size of the front swivel wheel correlates to the size of the rear wheel which is related to the size of the wheelchair, so one cannot simply say “why not just get them thicker front wheels?!”. There has been a particular vendor who modifies models to fit the Singaporean landscape and labels the models with an “S model” appendage. However, they do not extend their service to testing their wheelchairs on the MRT trains as that is out of their job scope.

Introduction to Design Thinking & Ideation

Having framed the problem, we invited wheelchair users, engineers, designers and the new-age “makers” for (these)abilities LAB session #1 at the National Design Centre’s Prototyping Lab. The agenda was to:

  • Frame the problem at hand & gather more feedback from wheelchair users
  • Introduce Design Thinking to wheelchair users and others not familiar with the concept
  • Ideate on solutions together with wheelchair users as part of the design team

 

 

(Everyone hard at work sketching 5 ideas in 3 minutes!)

 

(Sharing of ideas)

 (Sketch by Judy, a wheelchair user)

(Discussing more ideas!)

 

(Sketch by Esmond, a wheelchair user)

(Idea Pitching by NUS Industrial Design student, Shaun Seah)

 

(15 people, 45 minutes, and tons of ideas to solve the MRT platform gap problem)

 (A healthy little piece of Ginseng to help us find the "root cause of the problem")

 

After 3 hours, every one of the 15 participants (including 6 wheelchair users) understood the problem at hand, had gone through design thinking methods and produced 50-60 ideas on how to solve the platform gap problem.

They can be grouped into 3 broad categories:

  • System-level solution: A solution to be implemented by SMRT for all wheelchair users (and also prams, shopping trolleys, elderly with walking sticks and bicycles)
  • Product-level solution: A solution that would be an add-on for their wheelchair
  • Service-level solution: A solution that required technique and form from the wheelchair user; or a public awareness campaign

Moving Forward

In (these)abilities LAB session #2, we shall begin prototyping some of these solutions. Visit our website again in 2 weeks to see the solutions we have prototyped, as well as some pro-tips from experienced wheelchair users on how to NOT get your wheels stuck in the platform gap!

 

 

 

 

About (these)abilities L.A.B:

 (these)abilities L.A.B, is a fortnightly event where people from all walks of life come together to solve problems facing Persons with Disabilities (PwDs).

 Through interaction, dialogue and problem sharing, our aim is for everyone to understand the problems PwDs face that might seem trivial to others and to build empathy amongst our peers towards disability in Singapore.

 Through ideation, conceptualisation, prototyping and testing, our aim is for all participants to help in one form or another to solve significant issues in the disability sector through building product solutions.

We are proud to announce that the One Maker Group is our venue sponsor.

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