Universal Design Project for Convenient Spaces: Public Restrooms

A need to apply universal design to essential spaces 

The Republic of Korea is experiencing radical demographic changes, such as the super-aged society and an increase in the foreign population. The public sector is obliged to create comfortable spaces for parents to go out with infants as well as an environment for seniors, persons with disabilities, and children. 

Recently, public spaces have been improved with the acknowledgment of diversity and the reinforcement of legal regulations. However, laws do not regulate details of small-scale unit spaces, which have low priorities when it comes to spatial improvement. For example, the SMG remodeled many aged community service centers during the “‘Outreach Project for Spatial Improvement of Community Service Centers,” but restrooms were not included in the scope of this project. As such, Seoul has built and improved good spaces, but it excluded small-scale spaces like restrooms.

Among diverse spaces, restrooms, in particular, are crucial for solving physiological issues. Therefore, restrooms should be available at any place. Though Koreans tend to allow people to use restrooms freely, many restrooms in old buildings of Seoul are not open to the public. 

Accordingly, the Design Policy Division of Seoul and the Seoul Universal Design Center (“Center”) selected restrooms, places with an urgent need for universal design among small-scale unit spaces, as the first target for improvement, as well as a target for the “Outreach Project for Spatial Improvement of Community Service Centers.”

Universal design elements applied to restrooms

Restrooms need to be considered as more than just a place to use the toilet. There can be emergency situations where people faint in restrooms, and hidden camera crimes can also occur in restrooms. Therefore, restrooms must ensure convenience by applying universal design while securing a safe space at the same time. In addition, cleaning has lately been regarded as important to prevent infectious diseases like COVID-19. Accordingly, the Center has established the five principles below while considering these situations and decided three elements for each principle to embody universal design restrooms. 


It may be difficult to apply all of the above elements to one restroom due to limitations of the improvement project, but if they are taken into account in the planning stage (design stage), we can take our first step toward a universal design environment for all by breaking away from an improvement project that simply stresses aesthetic aspects (removal of outdated things).

Spread of universal design-applied public restrooms through cases

Large pictograms were attached at the entrances to indicate genders and multi-purpose restrooms, helping people with low vision and foreigners spot restrooms easily. Doors were replaced by automatic doors for users carrying baggage and for children to enter and leave with convenience. Foot switches were installed to open doors using a foot to consider COVID-19 infections and sanitation. Chairs for babies and diaper decks were also installed in men’s restrooms, and a heater was installed underneath each diaper deck to keep babies warm while changing diapers. Sanitary devices (toilet bowls and urinals) were applied with a finishing material with high brightness contrast to be noticeable for users with a color deficiency and poor cognitive abilities. Existing iron handles were replaced by a non-slip warm material to ensure the safety of seniors and persons with disabilities with mobility difficulties. Diaper decks and chairs for babies were installed in all places, including men’s restrooms, women’s restrooms, and multi-purpose restrooms, allowing everyone carrying a baby to benefit from convenience regardless of gender. Existing restrooms for the persons with disabilities were turned into “multi-purpose restrooms” available for users under different conditions, such as the persons with disabilities, seniors, and families with infants.


Pictogram signs that can be understood without knowing the Korean language were installed at Guro 2-dong Community Service Center with many foreign visitors. Sinjeong 3-dong Community Service Center with many visitors accompanying babies reinforced convenience facilities for babies. As such, facilities were improved in consideration of the characteristics of each target site.

- Guro 2-dong Community Service Center: Pictogram signs were installed at the entrance of the community service center considering many foreign visitors to help them find restrooms easily.

- Sinjeong 3-dong Community Service Center: Heated diaper decks were installed as a pilot project in the women’s restroom to prevent babies from feeling cold while changing diapers. An exclusive storage area for strollers was separately installed at the restroom entrance.

In addition, partitions applied a structure with the top and bottom blocked to prevent illegal cameras. Emergency bells were installed at the bottom of walls and next to diaper decks of the multi-purpose restroom, allowing people to request help under any circumstance, such as suddenly falling on the floor.


Guide signs for easy understanding of seniors, persons with low vision, and foreigners; heated diaper decks for the emotional stability of infants; and automatic door switches that can open and close the door using feet

Improvement of public restrooms through distribution of guidebooks

The Guidebook on Universal Design in Convenience Spaces (Public Restroom Edition) was produced to apply universal design to different places based on the above case. The guidebook was distributed among agencies in 25 districts and cities to be used as guidelines when installing or remodeling public restrooms in the public and private sectors. The guidebook contained the applicable principles, guidelines, major cases, and checklists, as well as the installation of security screens to prevent illegal cameras in public restrooms. The SMG plans to encourage public restrooms at community service centers to use this guidebook actively for improvements.

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