Last Sunday afternoon, I was waiting for my husband and baby Alex in front of Centrepoint shopping centre. The entrance of the mall has two flights of stairs, one going to level one and the other leading to basement one. A couple came along with a baby stroller, and they wanted to go up to level one. The father had to carry the stroller with the baby in it up the steps as there are no escalators or ramp available.
Just then another couple with a stroller came along and they wanted to go down to the basement one level, this father did the same and carried the stroller with baby down the stairs. Shortly after, a domestic helper arrived with a toddler in stroller, and she also wanted to go down to basement level. I looked at her wondering how she was going to do it, because it was obvious to me she doesn’t have the strength to carry the stroller down the steps. She asked a female security officer for help, and subsequently a male cleaning staff came along and helped her with the stroller.
As I’ve mentioned, I was waiting for my husband because he had to take the elevator with Alex from basement one to street level. I was carrying grocery bags, and my husband had to manage the stroller with Alex in the car seat, the diaper bag and breast pump. So I took the stairs first to wait for them at the mall entrance. It took my husband almost 15 minutes just to move up one level to meet up with me.
One of the two elevators had broken down, and my husband went into the working one with the stroller even though it was going down, otherwise he might not be able to get in when it was crowded by abled-body people. But when the elevator was at basement 2, the door wouldn’t close and the elevator was stuck at that level. My husband had no choice but to step out of it and just then, the door closed on him. When he and Alex finally got into the elevator and out at the street level, they ended up at the back of the building. There is also a chair lift for the disabled (and strollers) at the side of the building, which goes to level one only. But there is no sign indicating the whereabout of the elevator and chair lift at the mall entrance. In fact, we only saw the chair lift when we went round to the side trying to find a ramp or elevator to enter the building. To use the chair lift, you have to keep pressing on the button to activate it. The instructions are in fine print. It baffles us why the lift and even the elevators are relegated to the back and side of the building, as if those using them are not fit to be seen at the main entrance, like servants having to use the back door.
A baby in a stroller is similar to a person in a wheelchair. For those who have to move baby around in a stroller, you will empathize how a physically disabled person feel in Singapore, which is honestly disabled and stroller unfriendly. In the US, it’s rather common to see old folks or the disabled moving around in a motorized wheelchair on their own, seemingly with ease. Well, good luck if you try doing that in Singapore. Some of you may suggest, ‘you can use a baby carrier to carry baby around, and it gives you more flexibility.’ True, I’m not sure about other babies, but for Alex he naps better and more comfortably in the car seat. I’ve seen parents who have both the carrier and stroller with them when they take the baby out, and I’m sure the stroller is to provide baby with a more comfortable sleeping position. So you still end up with a stroller in hand.
You would think that the malls here will try to make their buildings family-friendly, which also means baby-friendly. But in my opinion, any such facilities are installed as an afterthought. Of the many malls we been to, Centrepoint is the most unfriendly to baby strollers and wheelchairs. When the mall underwent a revamp a few years ago, I’m not sure if they considered building a ramp at the entrance, or at least at the side of the building. No matter, the end result shows that only the minimal is provided for the disabled and babies. My husband and I are boycotting Centrepoint for being such a frustrating place to maneuver for stroller.
Other malls along Orchard road fare better than Centrepoint in varying degrees. Orchard Central (OC), which is across the road, has a lot of fast elevators which makes it convenient to go to various floors. But you literally have to stand in the middle of the lobby to see which one has arrived. Often I find myself having to move quickly to the available one which may be at the other end of the lobby. We’re talking about 5 elevators at each sides of the lobby, though the elevators on one side only go to certain levels. The mall is relatively spacious, but that may be due to low shopper traffic. But the carpark at OC sucks! It’s not for those suffering from vertigo because the access is a long, narrow, spiral drive, and entering the building from carpark with a stroller or wheelchair is a bloody pain in the ass! Besides, there doesn’t seem to be any nursing rooms available despite the signs. We had to change Alex in the disabled toilet.
Next door, 313@Somerset, is better than OC in that the elevators are spacious and fast, and nursing rooms (available in 3 levels) are pretty good. What I don’t understand is why there is only one elevator leading to the carpark in each of the 2 lobbies. Another thing about 313 is that it can get freaking crowded because of the train station located beneath it, which makes maneuvering of stroller or wheelchair difficult. Oh, the street level of both 313 and OC malls is also level one and so there’s no problem entering the malls from the street.
Mandarin Gallery also has a number of fast elevators for quick access. Again, like OC, access to and from carpark is a pain. So we park at Orchard Cineleisure, located behind Mandarin Gallery, instead. Orchard Cineleisure is a place catered to the youth and not exactly one for babies or old folks. I’m not even sure there is nursing room available. Takashimaya doesn’t have many elevators for shoppers, which is strange considering it’s a large mall. The elevators are often crowded and parents with strollers would try to rush in to grab a spot. The two basement retail levels are not spacious either and make moving around with stroller or wheelchair a strenuous task. It’s a good place to shop if you don’t have anything to hamper you because of the wide selection of products available, but not very baby or wheelchair friendly. It’s the same for Paragon and Wisma Atria, which have only 2 measly elevators, and the abled bodies compete with strollers and wheelchairs over them.
One high-end mall stands out from the rest. This mall doesn’t just have a wide selection of shops like Takashimaya, but is both baby and wheelchair friendly, and spacious too. Ion Orchard, which is my favorite mall, has 2 lift lobbies with 4 elevators each that are fast and roomy. The mall also has express escalators which helps to reduce usage of elevators. Its carpark has one of the most spacious parking lots in Singapore. Of course I don’t think the mall management is so altruistic to provide all these amenities for babies and the disabled, they are catering to the wealthy who expect a pleasant shopping experience. Still we take what we can get and it’s pretty good from Ion. This is one of the few malls which has nursing rooms at almost all levels (other than level 1 which strangely doesn’t have any bathrooms available).
Other malls which provide easy movement are Marina Square and Liang Court. They have travelators from the carpark to the retail shop, and space for strollers and wheelchairs to maneuver. Though at Liang Court, there’re only 2 elevators but because of the low shopper traffic, it’s not too bad. It’s the same for the suburban mall, Tampines One, but traffic is higher and it can be quite a wait at times. Talking about the malls in the suburb, like their town counterparts, they are not any friendlier to strollers and wheelchairs. In fact these malls are more cramped with retail stores, or their carparks suck big time because it takes hell of a lot of navigating to enter the malls, like Nex.
Some carparks like that in Tampines One have parking lots for family with strollers. Unfortunately most times those lots are taken up by inconsiderate drivers without baby in tow. Whereas for the disabled, there are designated lots in almost all carparks and they can apply for the disabled car decal which entitle them to park in these lots. Unfortunately no such decal is available for family transporting a baby.
Now that we’ve Alex, my husband said that our geographic zone has reduced significantly to those locations where we can maneuver a stroller. He thinks that it would be worse for those on wheelchairs because of the lack of facilities for the disabled in many places. So we do empathize the plight of the disabled, many are probably stuck at home most of the time. Anyway I really hope that those who are physically able will try taking the escalators rather than the elevators so that they don’t compete with baby strollers/prams or those on wheelchairs. And please refrain from taking up parking lots for families with strollers if you don’t have babies.