UD (Universal Design) in the Everyday Life of Citizens

The 2014 Universal Design International Seminar has obtained written consent from the speaker to publish the summarized and edited content

SPEAKER: Jeon Mi-ja (Chairman, Korea Welfare Environment Design Institute, Korea)

How does universal design exist in everyday life - our home life, our daily life and our daily routines? 

1. Everyday universal design for our family


“An 87-year-old mother, who is physically disabled and unable to go outside without support, often sits in the living room and looks out the window or holds onto the window sill of the veranda and watches people passing outside the apartment window. Recently, her hearing has deteriorated and she can't hear the doorbell very well, so she is afraid that she won't be able to hear when her children call.”

Through consideration for the underprivileged and the coming of the aging society, universal design has already become commonplace in developed countries. Although there is a difference in degree, signs of hearing, visual, and physical disabilities appear together in the process of human aging. Although it is a very natural process, it is bound to lead to experiences that cause inconvenience in daily life, which makes us realize how important and useful universal design is for all of us, and why it should become commonplace in our daily lives.


“One morning, a child with a developmental disability was throwing knives, scissors, and other kitchen items out of a small kitchen window in a 13th-floor apartment. Fortunately, the child did not fall out of the window, and after a while the child’s mother was handed all the thrown objects from the security guard. The family would not have been able to stay in the neighborhood any longer if the house was not a residential quarter provided by the company due to the nature of the parent's occupation.”


“When the child was in elementary school, she opened the door by herself, went into an elevator and went down, and could not be found for a long time. She managed to come back home by herself the time. But it would not be easy for a child to find their own apartment when they are all the same color and structure. If the entrance to each apartment building was a different color or each had a specific structure, it would be much easier to be find the entrance to the apartment building even if she couldn’t come to the front of the house.”

As seen in the above examples, we encounter cases of elderly people with dementia, elderly people living alone, children with developmental autism who have low cognitive ability and lack of social skills, and families living with disabilities. Universal design that can support their safety and minimal independence is embodied in handrails, window guards, low benches, and large, easy-to-understand signs that can function as a responsible language and effort to put themselves in their place.

2. Universal design of everyday life means the realization of social equality

Universal design requires different approaches to space and design according to the characteristics and desires of users, and the basic concept is to build a space that is fair to everyone. This can be actively considered when constructing spaces for welfare facilities, protection facilities, and medical institutions. For example, in the case of juvenile detention facilities, although the body is not completely free, space elements that can be freely enjoyed within the facility can be configured to reflect the characteristics of users. The space can be planned by considering the reality of the conditions and the users' desire to take a break away from the gaze of others. Also, due to the nature of a psychiatric ward, patients living in limited internal wards may feel intimidated by the sound of iron doors closing behind them. It could be an example of universal design.

The philosophy of universal design is not only to consider physical convenience, but also to consider the situation as a whole. Those who find it difficult to communicate will need easy-to-understand signs, and those who are stuck in a restrictive daily life will need space elements, colors, and lighting that give them a sense of openness. Universal design, which communicates sincerely and is fair to everyone without discrimination, can create spaces from small to large.

3. Authentic, everyday universal design

Even if a person cannot speak or express themselves, we must have the compassion to consider their feelings and pain and the compassion to listen to them. Universal design makes everyone feel that they are respected so that they can have a bright and positive mindset and feel that they are members of our society. While domestic universal design is developing in a positive way to accommodate the actual needs of minorities, it should continue to pay attention to whether such efforts are reflected in the design. Consideration should not stop with the installation of amenities. I hope that many realistic and complete measures will be sincerely discussed, along with ways in which universal design can be introduced throughout our daily lives.

“The master nodded. “To hear the unheard,” he said, “is a necessary discipline to be a good ruler. For only when a ruler has learned to listen closely to the people’s hearts, hearing their feelings uncommunicated, pains unexpressed, and complaints not spoken of, can he hope to inspire confidence in the people, understand when something is wrong, and meet the true needs of his citizens.”

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