Asia-Pacific Feb 25, 2011
Tokyo: Japan’s airports have been rapidly improving their buildings and facilities based on the concept of “universal design” as a wide variety of people, such as the elderly, parents with baby strollers and people using wheelchairs, pass through airports.
Universal design refers to hardware and software considerations to enable anyone to safely and comfortably use public facilities.
Looking at the departure lobby of the international passengers terminal building of Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, Prof. Yoshihiko Kawauchi of Toyo University said, “I believe the universal design of this airport is world class.”
Kawauchi, who uses a wheelchair, was deputy chairman of a universal design consideration panel for the terminal building, which opened in October last year.
The most hotly debated issue in the panel’s discussions was the design of doors for multifunction toilets.
In the terminal building, all restrooms are equipped with multifunction toilets intended mainly for people in wheelchairs, those with baby strollers, and those with artificial bladders.
Not only the interior fixtures but also the doors were designed for easy use.
People in wheelchairs with weak arm strength usually find automatic doors convenient.
But when such a person is accompanied by a helper, an automatic door can become troublesome. If the helper assists the disabled person in getting situated on the toilet and then politely steps away to provide some privacy, the door’s sensors may think it is time to leave and open the door, possibly exposing the person on the toilet to the view of passersby.
For people who are visually impaired, the buttons to open and close the automatic doors can be difficult to locate.
Thus, the airport’s universal design panel finally chose doors that open manually and are made of very lightweight material.
Elevators at the airport are equipped with emergency buttons for the hearing-impaired, because ordinary emergency buttons are useless for such people as the system only enables the user to talk with staff.
If a person presses the special emergency button for the hearing-impaired, an airport employee will come to the scene and communicate with the troubled user through written messages or sign language through the elevator’s glass doors.
Also, the terminal building introduced the world’s first non-sloping boarding bridges. The building also has toilets exclusively for assistance dogs.
The design of the building also took into consideration the convenience of nondisabled people.
The electronic flight information boards employ fonts that make it easier to distinguish 0 from O. The boards also display the content of announcements from speakers, thus are convenient for not only the hearing-impaired but also others who missed hearing the announcements.
There are also 85 “concierge” staff stationed at or near information counters. All of them speak English, and some also speak Korean and Chinese. They can accompany people in wheelchairs and communicate with sign language.
Guide maps for the visually impaired are available. The Braille maps, which fold in half, are useful to nondisabled people as well.
Nobuhisa Nakamura, senior manager of Tokyo International Air Terminal Corp., which manages buildings at Haneda Airport, said: “We’ll reconvene the universal design panel, possibly in autumn this year. We’ll examine tasks to further improve the facilities.”
Centrair in Tokoname, Aichi Prefecture, which opened in February 2005, is said to be the nation’s first airport to employ the concept of universal design in its buildings.
That airport’s design was made more universal not only by engineering hardware improvements but also by considering opinions from disabled people and outside experts.
This approach was also taken in work on Haneda Airport and the international passengers terminal building of New Chitose Airport in Chitose, Hokkaido, which opened in March last year.
In July 2005, the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry drafted an outline of policy for promoting universal design in which all kinds of people can comfortably live.
The ministry has encouraged construction and renovation of public transportation and facilities, including airports, based on the concept.
Makoto Nakazawa, president of Barrier Free Co., a Tokyo-based firm assisting companies and organizations in introducing the universal design concept, said: “Though Haneda Airport’s level of universal design is textbook-perfect, it’s too costly for ordinary companies and hotels to do the same.
“The level doesn’t need to be perfect for everybody from the beginning. It’s important to start on the parts that are possible to do now.”