City for Disabilities going for tour and culture

The 2018 Universal Design International Seminar has obtained written consent from the speaker to publish the summarized and edited content

SPEAKER: Seo-yoon Hong (Tourism All Korea, President)

From the point of view of mobility-impaired wheelchair users, barrier-free design and universal design are quite different. As Korea is heading towards becoming an aging society, it is expected that the demand for accessibility will increase. The gap must be filled through the application of universal design.

Urban life for the mobility-impaired
The way in which the mobility-impaired people use the city is very different from that of the non-disabled people. Typically, there is a difference between infrastructure and daily needs. Because disabled people using wheelchairs have difficulty using public transportation, it is common either to use an adaptive taxi that can accommodate a wheelchair or to reduce the frequency of going out. Therefore, mobility is limited, and long-distance movement is impossible, so connection between regions is significantly reduced. Most mobility-impaired people have a great fear of moving out of their place of residence.
There are also differences in the way they move. Many older subway stations do not have elevators because the anti-discrimination laws did not apply in the past. In fact, it's only been a few years since wheelchair users have actually been able to ride the subway since related laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) started to take effect. Stairs were removed, escalators were installed, and facilities were installed to allow wheelchair users to move between floors. 
In addition, there is a problem in that information about the location display of the disabled toilet or elevator is not properly given due to lack of awareness of the versatility of the information acquisition method. This is usually a problem caused by the fact that supplier-oriented guide signs are made, and people with mobility difficulties, travelers with language barriers, and tourists with difficulties feel the inconvenience.

Universal design experience as weak in mobility
I would like to discuss the application of universal design through examples from overseas and domestic experiences.
I once took a train when I visited Germany.
Pictograms of bicycles, strollers, and wheelchairs were placed on the exterior of the train, and the entire train was designed so that anyone could use it. Mothers with children were able to sit with a stroller, and if they were carrying a bicycle, they could sit with the bicycle next to them. The general seats were designed to be at the same height as a wheelchair, so that all passengers could move while meeting and talking with eyes set at the same height. 

I once went up a mountain 3,000m above sea level on a cable car. In Korea, many observatories install fences for safety reasons, but in German observatories, low fences and nets were installed so that children and wheelchair users could also enjoy the same view. If you do not separate users and do not design only to accommodate the majority, you can create a facility that everyone can use without additional cost, and I thought that this would be truly universal design.

Automatic doors - one of the things that struck me most while traveling abroad - have a sensor attached so that the door automatically opens and closes when you get close to it. For manual doors, pressing a button marked with a wheelchair icon automatically opens and closes the door. In Korea, automatic sliding doors or automatic revolving doors are common, but I think that in order to create a barrier-free tourist destination, installation of automatic doors like overseas should increase nationwide.

‘Psy’s Drenched Show’ in Korea was a performance enjoyed by a standing audience. There is a separate zone for the disabled in the audience. It may be difficult to say that universal design is applied just by making separate seats for the disabled. However, due to the nature of the performance, we can see the universal recognition that the area is divided so that everyone can enjoy the performance together without obstructing the view of the mobility-impaired in wheelchairs while ensuring their safety. As a result, both the non-disabled and disabled audience were able to enjoy the performance together, and the staff were able to conduct the performance without any special difficulties in safety management. It can be said that it is an example of the application and operation of an integrated universal design in terms of users and suppliers.


As travelers, we have a lot of obstacles and barriers when we visit overseas cities. This is because travelers have to find their way and enjoy the culture in a situation where they do not speak the language, and are unfamiliar with the urban environment. The method of providing information is therefore very important.
In the case of Switzerland, even if you did not know the names of Swiss federal railways such as SBB, CFF, and FFS, you could use the train by seeing the consistently applied symbols of the Swiss Railways. A similar experience in Hong Kong made it possible to easily recognize the location and direction of subway stations on the ground through the trident symbol. Hong Kong's subways do not have stairs, and arrows for routes and directions are well provided, so there was no difficulty in moving and finding directions. Also, in New York, a very simple notation method was used to guide wheelchair users to the exit path, but if they followed the arrow on the same path as a pedestrian, there would be elevators and ramps. Among the difficulties experienced in Seoul, finding an elevator and going down to the subway was the most difficult.

Swiss railway station symbol

View of Hong Kong subway station

In Korea, finding subway entrances or locating elevators is the most difficult task for people in wheelchairs. Along the way, you might find the entrance to the subway station with steps that go below ground, but there is little information on where to take the elevator down. Fortunately, however, as the subway lines in Seoul have been expanded, information on elevators and toilets has gradually increased, and the inconvenience of the mobility-impaired has been greatly reduced. In the future, it is hoped that the information system and transfer system of the subway for foreigners and the transportation vulnerable will be continuously improved so that more people can use it easily.

Universal Design

Removing obstacles
Reorganizing / renovating / adjusting the existing environment
Equipment and architecture focused

Universal Design:
A new paradigm
Considering the usability of all citizens
Creating an environment from the beginning, no changes made after
Creating / designing an urban environment

Comparing barrier-free and universal design, barrier-free can be viewed as a slightly more disabled-oriented perspective, and universal design can be viewed as a new paradigm. Universal design considers the usability of all citizens from the design stage onwards, so that it can be used continuously without any new changes, reorganizations, or adjustments.
Universal design should consider inclusion from the actual planning stage for the purpose of creating a more advanced form of accessibility rather than simply removing environmental obstacles. We must build a diverse network of experts and architects, and above all, the citizens who actually use it must have a greater voice.
From the perspective of the mobility-impaired, it is true that the current urban environment of Seoul needs much improvement. Among the various environmental factors, the ones that we can quickly apply are those such as guidance systems and wayfinding. If universal design is considered more actively in building the guidance system, it will be possible to quickly reach the point of fixing current shortcomings. The results of universal design reflected in the initial stage have sustainability without the need for modification and improvement, so everyone should think about applying it to the urban environment.
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