Post-COVID Era, Direction of Seoul Metropolitan Government’s Universal Design Policy

The 2020 SEOUL Design International FORUM has obtained written consent from the speaker to publish the summarized and edited content

SPEAKER: Lee Hye Young (Director, Design Policy Division of Seoul Metropolitan Government)

The global epidemic of COVID-19 is inducing major changes in our daily lives, and in all areas of society. Crisis has become commonplace, and with the transition to a non-face-to-face society, online communication methods have also become popular. Experts predict that this crisis will not end easily, and in particular, the transition to a non-face-to-face society will continue even after the coronavirus (post-corona).

In Korea, various measures are being implemented, starting with “social distancing” to prevent and end COVID-19. As a result of everyone’s efforts, results are being achieved, but as social distancing continues, side effects are also appearing in some areas. In particular, for the socially disadvantaged such as the elderly and the disabled, social distancing and isolation from society can be as fatal as COVID-19.

In this regard, changes in the public sector are required. It is necessary not only to strive for quarantine through social distancing, but also to alleviate the side effects that are different for each class of society and carefully examine the marginalized blind spots. This is why the role of universal design as “design that embraces all” at this point is important.

Since the establishment of the “Welfare Facility Design Guidelines” in 2010, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has been continuously striving to encourage the spread of the design. In particular, in 2016, the ‘Basic Ordinance on Design City Creation’ was enacted to realize the design welfare of Seoul citizens and promote the design of Seoul. However, rapid and new changes, such as COVID-19 and the transition to a non-face-to-face society, mean that design policies must also change, so we want to explore the direction of Seoul's design policy after Corona.

1. Seoul’s Efforts for a Universal Design City

The Seoul Metropolitan Government has put a lot of effort into making universal design permeate throughout the civil society over the past decade. Starting with the development of universal design guidelines for welfare facilities in 2010, various policies such as consulting and pilot project education have been promoted until 2019. Here are 100 examples of Seoul's 10 years of efforts for a universal design city.

[24] : Development of ‘welfare facility design guidelines’ targeting 24 types of welfare facilities


The Seoul Universal Design Project started with the development of universal design guidelines for welfare facilities targeting 24 types of welfare facilities used by users such as the elderly, the disabled, women, children, and adolescents. Welfare facility workers, architects, public officials, etc. participated, and based on the types and characteristics of user behavior for each facility, facilities were created to embrace rather than to be used, and through this, the value of universal design and design welfare were realized.

[64] : Design consulting for a total of 64 locations


From 2010 to 2019, Seoul completed universal design consulting for a total of 64 locations. Welfare facility design consulting has been conducted since 2010 based on the ‘Welfare Facility Universal Design Guidelines’, and consulting cases for various types of facilities have been accumulated by expanding the target to public facilities such as public buildings and libraries. From 2020, through the ‘Seoul City Universal Design Center’, intensive consulting for each type of facility and step-by-step has been conducted, accumulating best practices.

To introduce some of them, as shown in the figure below, many existing public building guide signs have a problem in that it is difficult to intuitively recognize information because the floor or direction division is not clear. To solve this problem, consulting was conducted to expand the text and clarify the color contrast, so that various users could easily and accurately recognize and receive information. In addition to creating stairs and ramps for access to facilities, step-free access was secured and safety handrails were applied so that more citizens could use it safely.

Careful consideration was also given to the color and space furniture arrangement. In the case of amblyopia or color weakness, it is difficult to distinguish information by color, so even if there is amblyopia or color weakness, colors that are easy to distinguish and contrast are selected, which improves the perception of safety facilities so that they can respond immediately in an emergency. Space and furniture were also placed based on the behavioral types and characteristics of the main users and applied to make it convenient for users.


[01] : Universal Design Integration Guideline & Checklist


The Seoul Metropolitan Government developed the Seoul Design Integration Guidelines and Checklist in 2017 by integrating various legal guidance manuals. The integrated guidelines were developed into 29 items in three categories, including public streets, parks and plazas, and public buildings, and it is planned to be used as guidelines for the relevant departments of Seoul.


A brief look at the contents of the integrated guidelines by sector provides guidelines for pedestrian safety zones, vehicle entry zones, public spaces on the site, and bicycle paths in the public street sector, and provides guidelines for entry space, movement space, and sanitary space in the park and plaza sector, convenience spaces and resting spaces. In the public building sector, basic guidelines and detailed installation standards for each space were established for access, entry, movement, and sanitary spaces. Since 2015, six excellent models have been created by applying the design to public streets, resident community spaces, public health centers, and senior citizens' centers.

 [6] : Universal Design Excellent Model Creation and Leading Project


A representative example of the Universal Design Excellent Model Creation Project is the creation of an excellent model for senior citizens. Currently, there are 3,400 senior citizen centers in Seoul, which account for about 88% of all leisure facilities for the elderly. Despite the continuous increase in the age of senior citizens due to the rapid aging of recent years, there was a problem that the elderly, who are users, were often exposed to danger and anxiety. Accordingly, the Seoul Metropolitan Government applied the universal design to the Hwamok Senior Citizens Hall in Dongdaemun-gu to create a safe and comfortable space based on users' daily behavior patterns and psychology.


Seniors need support or help from others when climbing a slope, changing shoes, or going up and down stairs. Reflecting the behavioral patterns of the elderly, safety handles were installed on the access road, and chairs, pedestals, and supports were installed in the shoe rack to create a safe access space. In addition, we divided the sitting and standing living spaces to give the elderly a choice, and tried to satisfy both safety and convenience by introducing a top-down lift shelf and a pull-out lower cabinet. Safety handles were also installed in sanitary spaces such as toilets to introduce bright lighting and signs of caution for hot and cold water. This created an environment that the elderly could use on their own and greatly increased their satisfaction. The results of the project were summarized and developed as a universal design guidebook for senior citizens, and distributed to related departments and related organizations for reference.

 [02] : Universal design regional unit test bed creation


If the previous pilot projects were mainly facility units, from 2018, they expanded to regional units and implemented the universal design regional unit test bed creation project. In connection with the urban regeneration project, a customized design of public space used by citizens was developed to create a safer and more convenient environment. 

Chungshin Upper Village, an example of this project, is an area with 48 alleys, of which 34 are hilly low-rise residential areas with stairs. It was a place where it was difficult to recognize the entrance and exit and lacked walking convenience facilities such as hand bells, and the stairs were irregular and the steps were difficult to distinguish, forcing people passing by to be exposed to danger. Integrated cognitive facilities for each type that can be applied according to the types of internal alleys and alleys at entrances and entrances that are difficult to recognize, and patterns showing entrance and exit directions were also installed. It also installed a multi-sensory two-row handrail that can visually recognize the degree of step of the stairs and firmly support them when going up and down the stairs. It also developed a universal village staircase design that supports safe steps for all residents by installing safety handles and rest bars. These models are also planning to produce and distribute guidelines so that they can be applied to other regions.


[03]: Three projects to spread design awareness


The Seoul Metropolitan Government is promoting projects in three directions to spread awareness of universal design. The first is 'Universal Design International Seminar' and 'Characteristic Creative Education Civil Service Job Training', which will be held from 2020 as the 'Seoul Design International Forum'. Since 2013, the city of Seoul has been holding the ‘Universal Design International Seminar’ every year to spread awareness of universal design encountered in everyday life and to form a consensus. In the seminar, experts from each field, such as architecture, design, and city, participate as speakers and give presentations, and through panel discussions, the creation of an urban environment where all citizens can live safely and conveniently is discussed.

'Universal Design Personality Creative Education' is a project that builds awareness and consensus on the necessity of universal design, nurtures the character of students and promotes creativity through the value of universal design. In cooperation with the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, ‘Universal Design Intensive Education’ is conducted for elementary school teachers, and teachers who have completed the curriculum re-educate students.

To help citizens understand universal design and apply it to the city, the contents and achievements of the Seoul Metropolitan Government over the past 10 years are summarized and what has changed compared to the past 10 years to draw the next 10 years. The Seoul Metropolitan Government has made various efforts to create an urban environment that anyone can enjoy and to increase the safety and convenience of citizens. Although many achievements have been made, there are still problems to be solved in the future. The COVID-19 outbreak this year as well as social phenomena such as a low birth rate, an aging population, and an increase in single-person households are demanding a new paradigm for the post-COVID era. The spread of COVID-19 has brought many changes to our daily lives. Concepts such as social distancing, untact keywords, and non-face-to-face society have emerged, and the form of telecommuting has been rapidly activated, and on the other hand, human rights issues are being raised.

What should Seoul's Universal Design look like after Corona?

2. Four Keywords of Universal Design for the Next 10 Years

In order to prepare for the next 10 years of Seoul from the perspective of universal design, keywords that will have a close influence on the daily life of citizens were identified.

# Daily life in crisis

As there is still no effective treatment for COVID-19, the government is preparing for the era of with Corona, not the end of Corona. As such, urban crises are not something that can be resolved, but something that exists in our daily lives.

# Non-face-to-face society

Currently, most social activities in our society are conducted non-face-to-face. Recently, it has been used more often than before for sustainable quarantine, but it is still a big topic enough to talk about the transition to a non-face-to-face society, and the daily life of citizens has met a great change in a short time. The Seoul Design International Forum, which will be held online in 2020, can be said to be one of the extensions. In a non-face-to-face society, many things depend on telecommunication, and as the communication method changes to online, users with relatively limited access to technology may be alienated from useful information.

# relative alienation

Various measures for quarantine, environmental film masks, and online communication methods have also produced unintended effects. The antibacterial film attached to the elevator button made it difficult to recognize numbers or covered the Braille, causing inconvenience to the visually impaired. A transparent mask was also developed. In this way, in order to respond to the new environment after COVID-19 and create a people-centered city where everyone is respected, it is necessary to prepare for the next 10 years by adding four new values ​​to the existing four design principles established by Seoul City.

In August this year, the Seoul Metropolitan Government established the "Seoul Universal Design Comprehensive Plan," which will be the basis for universal design policies, and established the "Universal Design Center" to serve as an implementation organization. The Universal Design Comprehensive Plan has a vision of a people-centered city where everyone is respected and contains four policy goals and eight major projects. The main content is to improve procedures such as mandatory application of universal design, develop certification systems, create experience spaces and test beds, train experts, and educate citizens to respond quickly and flexibly to new changes.

3. Four values ​​for the next decade


3.1. Inclusion

The first of the four values to prepare for the next decade is inclusion. Inclusion means that anyone can freely use the city without being left out, and is a value in contact with the spirit of universal design that encompasses everyone regardless of gender, age, nationality, or disability. As part of efforts to minimize the underprivileged area that is expanding after the spread of COVID-19, the Seoul Metropolitan Government is pushing for a "Universal Design Information Construction Project." The main content of this project is to build information on the use environment and access routes of buildings for 1,050 buildings owned by the Seoul Metropolitan Government and open them to the public in the future. Recently, due to the social situation of feeling burdened by face-to-face activities with others, most of the weak pedestrians who have no choice but to seek help for movement are placed in an alienated environment, and the purpose of this project is to alleviate this problem and promote the mobility of the weak pedestrians.

The promotion method induces the participation of various types of citizens, such as the elderly, parents of child-rearing children, the disabled, and university students, and provides information such as the slope of the pedestrian section from the subway station to the building, whether there are any obstacles, the width of the sidewalk, etc. We intend to provide information to the public after investigating the usage environment of users, recording them on a map, and processing them into intuitive and easy-to-recognize information. This is to allow any citizen to choose the most convenient method for moving, and ultimately, it will help to minimize the situation in which the handicapped have to turn around due to obstacles or ask for help from others on the way. The value of inclusion is to realize the values ​​of equality, design, and design welfare by supporting everyone to enjoy a similar level of environment in the city.


3.2. Resilience (Recovery resilience)

The concept of recovery or resilience is emerging as the city prepares for post-coronavirus. Resilience refers to the ability to quickly recover from change, setbacks, and misfortune, and the role of society in this regard is very important, so it is time to design a city that can heal the hearts of citizens who have been injured by a series of crises.


For example, even though Gasan Digital Complex in Geumcheon-gu was full of buildings, it even felt a bit desolate. The public space, which should be a resting space in the city center, has lost its function, such as being used as a smoking space because it is difficult for some users to access or is neglected without identity. We are promoting a project to create an open public space so that it can be used as a space for charging and discharging.


The Seoul Metropolitan Government intends to make these spaces somewhere where people can engage in hobbies, take a break, interact with each other, and engage in cultural activities, rather than just sitting and resting. In addition, it is intended to improve pedestrian spaces that cause anxiety by increasing the density of citizens due to narrow spaces or many obstacles. In addition to the public notice to be reborn as a complex rest area, wide pedestrian paths and trails are created, and shelters are provided in various places to allow citizens to freely pass through. 

3.3 Self-Esteem

The next value is self-esteem. Self-esteem means surviving on one's own strength. In particular, I can focus on the meaning of ‘allowing you to choose a lifestyle that is not supported by other people’. This is the concept that ‘situations where it is forced to seek help from others should be minimized’. In particular, in a non-face-to-face society, face-to-face to ask for help from others is physically or psychologically burdensome.

As a representative example, the universal design development project for single-person elderly households, which is currently being promoted, has already entered an aged society in 2017 and is about to enter a super-aged society in 2025. While the number of safety accidents among the elderly is increasing every year, two-thirds of them are occurring within the residential area, and the safest and most free residential space has been created as a dangerous space that requires help from others.


Based on this awareness of the problem, we recognize the need to develop furniture and accessories with universal design so that the elderly can lead independent and safe lives in the living environment, and provide customized universal design throughout the living space such as bedrooms, bathrooms and toilets, living rooms, and kitchens. We intend to develop and test-apply customized universal design products throughout the residential space. Ultimately, we want to ensure that products are developed not only for the elderly but also for various citizen users who have difficulty in activities without assistance, and create an environment where everyone can choose their own lifestyle.

This will soon lead to vitalization of the universal design industry and creation of economic effects. In addition, since the value of self-esteem is closely related to an individual's life area, universal design is considered to be a field in which infinite values ​​such as safety, convenience, and choice can be created not only in economics but also in civil society as a whole.


3.4. Diffusion

The Seoul Metropolitan Government has been promoting various universal design policies for the past 10 years, but as a result of a 2017 survey, 7 out of 10 citizens answered that they did not understand universal design properly, confirming that the awareness was still low. The industry related to universal design is also active mainly for medical beds and welfare products, but the number of everyday items to which universal design is applied is very small. Therefore, it is necessary to further strengthen efforts to spread universal design in a different way than before.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government is producing and distributing online educational contents to spread best practices. In addition, in cooperation with the Design Foundation, a universal design platform for Dongdaemun Design Plaza, which will become a design hub, has been created and is preparing to open in January 2021. The Universal Design Platform is a space where the universal design industry can be revitalized and citizens can directly experience and recognize the necessity of universal design. UD City, UD Home, UD Library, and UD Library library). At UD City, fonts for deaf driving taxis and low-vision people that can be applied to urban and outdoor environments are displayed, and at UD Home, UD appliances, furniture, and props mainly used in home appliances and indoor environments are displayed. Citizens can experience exhibitions and participate in related events and seminars on the Universal Design Platform, and the UD Library is a space where design-related books are provided, where knowledge can be shared and communicated.


COVID 19, which is affecting not only the socially disadvantaged but also many ordinary citizens with less restrictions, is acting as a powerful threat to the city we live in. However, through the current urban crisis, we have come to recognize that anyone living in daily life can be in an uncomfortable situation, and more attention and empathy are being focused on the spirit of universal design starting from this point of view. Based on the interest of many citizens, the Seoul Metropolitan Government will continue to work hard to further solidify Seoul as a universal design city.

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