1. Promoting the development of an environment that facilitates access by elderly and physically

In revising design standards, we envisaged as broad a range of citizens as possible as building users. That is, the objective of the design standards is to promote buildings that are easily accessible and usable by all people. The following are the ideas of what constitutes easily accessible buildings.

  • Buildings accessible to all are those buildings built for use by all citizens living in the region. This covers most buildings that are connected with regional life, regardless of whether they are public or private facilities, and whether they are for work, recreation or learning.
  • While it is by no means a simple task to develop buildings that can be used by all people equitably, a range of parties including citizens, building contractors and administrative agencies need to work together from all perspectives to develop a physical environment that gives full consideration to ease of access and use by elderly and physically disabled people.
  • Designing buildings that can be used equitably by all people requires a thorough study of how the various users will actually use the buildings. Building owners and architects must therefore seek the input of citizens and users as required to understand their needs, and from this, develop buildings that can be easily accessed and used by as many people as possible.
  • Creating a barrier-free building demands not just work on the internal sections, but a comprehensive approach that integrates the physical and human aspects of the building’s development so that it can be used continuously and safely from the road or building grounds through to the intended destination inside the building.
  • Article 2 Paragraph 1 of the amended Heart Building Law defines elderly and physically disabled people as elderly people or physically disabled people and others whose daily life or life as a member of society is restricted from the standpoint of their physical functions. All people who are temporarily restricted in their physical functions, such as pregnant women and people with injuries, and intellectually and mentally disabled people with restricted physical functions are also subject to the measures provided for in the Heart Building Law.

(2) Measures for elderly and physically disabled people

The elderly, physically disabled, children and infants, and foreigners have special needs when using buildings, and it is these needs in particular that we have to understand. For example, wheelchair users have differing needs depending on their disability level, and wheelchair propulsion. Visually impaired people also have a range of needs in building use according to the age at which they became visually impaired, the extent and particulars of their visual impairment, life experience after impairment, vocational experience, and how often they go out of the building. So we have to have a firm understanding of these diverse needs. In the case of hearing impaired people, there is a difference in the means of communicating to people who are profoundly deaf and those who have a moderate hearing impairment, so there is a need to learn about these differences.

In this light, the following points should be noted when planning facilities.

  • While these design standards are the objective of the development, there are cases where the development methods will be different according to the needs of users, how the facilities are used, construction costs, and the location and siting of the development, and this will require the ingenuity of the building owners and architects. They must strive to avoid simply applying the design standards uniformly.
  • A barrier-free response must be achieved through building space and equipment, but at the same time, assistance in the form of welfare devices and staff (e.g., carers, sign language interpreters, and guides) should also be examined. For example, where the building is likely to be used by children or intellectually disabled people, consideration should be given to positioning staff to provide any necessary assistance.
  • Elderly and disabled people tend to be restricted especially when evacuating during a fire, earthquake or other disaster, so full consideration should be given to securing safe evacuation routes, establishing evacuation areas, and alarm systems. Special care should be taken in planning buildings used primarily by elderly or disabled people.

(3) Integrating the physical and non-physical aspects

To encourage and help elderly and physically disabled people to take a more active role in the community, there is a need to provide support in both the physical and non-physical aspects, so the following points should be considered.

  • While a barrier-free response should essentially be done through the physical aspects of the building, there is also a need to further facilitate access through non-physical measures as well, such as operation and management of the facilities, and personnel measures.
  • Users’ needs may expand and diversify after the facilities have started to be used, so consideration should be given to facilities maintenance, management and operation so that renovations can be undertaken at a later stage if required.
  • Safety during an emergency is a priority issue, so there is a need to construct a disaster prevention system that encompasses both physical and personnel support.

1.2 Key points in general building plans

(1) Process of planning buildings accessible to all people Skip toparagraph2-2

Building plans and designs vary greatly depending on the owners, architects, and building use and size, but the following are considered to be critical when applying these design standards.

1) Setting development guidelines

  • Development guidelines must be based on the equitable use by all people.
  • Development guidelines look into the barrier-free standards of the overall building. One point requiring careful consideration when applying design standards is determining the barrier-free standards to set for the overall facility. Development guidelines will probably vary depending on such factors as building use, size, and position.
  • In that case, the object should not merely be the development of the building section or unit space alone. If focus is concentrated on sectional development, there is a possibility that the overall accessibility of the building will be disjointed and incomplete, so it is vital to be mindful of accessibility and ease of use throughout the building as a whole.
  • In existing buildings, a thorough examination should be carried out into such aspects as users’ needs, structural and cost constraints when extending or renovating, and the possibility of securing alternative routes when it is difficult to upgrade the primary route. At times building improvement can be a simple matter of effective staff placement and equipment and systems installation or upgrading. For existing buildings it is also crucial to prioritize development areas according to the usage of the facilities.

2) Understanding users’ characteristics and needs

  • As stated earlier, to understand the characteristics of users or to grasp their needs based on the use of the facility, listening to their views as required and seeking their input into the planning process is very important.

3) Examine the application of development standards indicated in design standards

  • Compliance and conformity with barrier-free access standards under the Heart Building Law and welfare development standards set by local governments must be checked. In cases where there are difficulties in development that meets the standards such as the duty of effort, there is a need to sort out and explain the causes for this to users.
  • The measures and responses listed in the design standards are not all-inclusive; often architects will need to structure their designs on a regional or individual facility basis.

4) Foster the understanding of building owners and employees

  • The key to consolidating the development guidelines is gaining the understanding of building owners and employees (staff). This is particularly so when renovating an existing building. It is important for them to understand how to integrate physical and personnel responses, and the concepts of barrier-free and universal design. Staff training, including customer reception and assistance, is absolutely essential.
  • There is a need to foster an understanding of users’ characteristic needs through first-hand experience or workshops regarding the kinds of difficulties elderly and disabled people face in using the facilities.

5) Examine the economics and efficiency of the plan

  • There is a need to examine the efficiency of the building plan, in both a general and economic sense, and also the effective use of space. Regardless of whether it is a new construction or renovation, the best method of providing ease of access and use as widely and simply as possible should be explored, while avoiding the risk of over-development. At the same time, building owners should also have an eye to the possibility of subsequent upgrading and expansion, and providing flexible spatial and physical responses to users’ needs.

6) Response to fires, earthquakes and other emergencies

  • The response to disasters is discussed elsewhere, but during normal periods, building owners have a duty to take all steps possible to prevent accidents in the building grounds and the facilities. Evacuation during a disaster must be carefully checked, such as installing appropriate alarm systems (both audible and visual systems), and securing safe evacuation routes and areas.
  • Effort should be made to prepare an evacuation manual for each facility for elderly and disabled people, and other users who are restricted in their movement during an evacuation.

7) Appropriate management for barrier-free measures

  • Careful consideration should be given to maintenance and management after the development has been completed. This includes properly maintaining tactile tiles for visually impaired people, internal and external floor material, positioning of bollards, and information boards.

(2) Key points in building plans Back toparagraph2-1 Skip toparagraph2-3

From a minimum level to a more comfortable level of accessibility for elderly and disabled people

1) Planning continuous movement flow

  • Being able to move safely from the road and passageways within the building grounds to the destination room etc. is fundamental. Priority areas for development will vary according to the function of this movement flow. For example, the flow in a restaurant would be from the dining room to the toilet, in sporting facilities it is to the spectators’ seats, and in theaters it is vertical movement to audience seats, dressing rooms, and the stage. In hotels and inns, there is a need for easy access to guestrooms or communal baths.

2) Detailed safety plan

  • There is a need for appropriate measures to alleviate the risk presented by steps, and prevent people from stumbling or colliding into protruding objects while using the facilities.
  • Other than when there are alternative movement means or there are no particular functional difficulties, special care should be taken to keep steps to a minimum.

3) Appropriate dimensions

  • There is a need to examine and plan for suitable spatial measurements, such as the space required for various kinds of movement based on an understanding of users’ needs, the space required for wheelchairs to turn around, the height of openings and switches, and the position of signs.

4) Considering economic efficiency, flexibility, and general efficiency

  • Planning space and facilities that can be used by all users rather than designing specifically for elderly or disabled people will lead to lower construction costs, and the more efficient use of space.
  • Consideration should be given to ease and efficiency of use, including providing a suitable number of parking spaces for wheelchair users, multifunctional toilet cubicles, and a large number of toilet cubicles that are slightly bigger than normal, and integrating signs in adjacent or collocated buildings. Meeting facilities, theaters and the like may need to adopt a flexible seating arrangement, e.g., movable or detachable seats, in response to fluctuating numbers of users.

5) Ensuring ease of use and recognition

  • While making the overall building user-friendly is fundamental, consideration should also be given to the fitting of switches and door knobs that can be readily used and recognized by children or elderly people, visually impaired people, or those with upper limb disabilities.
  • Building signs should be designed to be simple, clear and easily understood by intellectually disabled people and foreigners.

6) Staff placement according to users’ needs

  • It is desirable to examine situations where from a use or location perspective, personal assistance is essential; for example, guidance and assistance for visually impaired people, sign language interpretation for hearing impaired people, special guidance for intellectually disabled people, and assistance and guidance for all facility users during an emergency.

(3) Building plan checkpoints Back toparagraph2-2 Skip toparagraph2-4

The following are basic space development checkpoints.

Overall checkpoints

  • Is the flow plan easy to understand and compact ?
  • Is information and sign (sound, text, pictographs, guiding tiles, etc.) placement suitable, and easy to understand and see ?

Personnel checkpoints

  • Placement of staff who can guide and scplain.
  • Placement of staff able to communicate in sign language.
  • Examine methods of meeting the needs of foreigners.
  • Emergency notification and evacuation assistance staff.

Special checkpoints

  • 1) Passageways within the building grounds
    • Are passageways easy to use and safe ?
    • Are passageways wide enough for elderly and disabled people to pass safely ?
  • 2) Entrances
    • Are entrances the required dimensions, and appropriately structured so they are easy to use ?
  • 3) Passageways and stairs
    • Are passageways and stairs the appropriate width, shape and grade ?
  • 4) Elevators
    • Are elevator cages the appropriate shape and size ?
  • 5) Toilets
    • Are the facilities, size and number of cubicles appropriate ?
  • 6) Ramps
    • Are ramps the appropriate width and grade ?
  • 7) Car parks
    • Are parking spaces for wheelchair users (size, passage, number of spaces, etc.) and their placement appropriate ?

Facilities checkpoints

  • Are the facilities easily accessible to all ?
  • Are the toilets easily accessible to all ?
  • Are there mothers’ rooms for changing babies nappies ?
  • Are the counters, switches and mirrors appropriately positioned, and related esquipment easy to use ?
  • Are there information / communication devices and writing implements for people with a visual or hearing impairment.
  • Are there emergency notification and evacuation systems ?

Reference :
Facilities used by the general public

(4) Checkpoints by building usage Back toparagraph2-3 Skip toparagraph2-5

  • It is important for buildings used by the general public (facilities for unspecified users) to generalize and satisfy a broad range of needs and requirements of their users, whereas buildings whose users are more specific (facilities for specified users) have to consider and make design allowances for the needs and characteristics of those specific users.
  • There are also buildings where some sections are used by the general public, and other sections are only accessible by specific users. In these cases, the facilities should be designed according to their usage. Examples of this include regional community areas or day service centers collocated with special nursing homes for the elderly, and factories that have separated the tour and display areas and the work areas.
  • In the case of buildings whose users and usage are specified to a certain degree, an input by potential users in the design stage will help to ensure the building meets their specific needs as much as possible. Chapter 3 gives examples of this kind of public input in (10) Supermarket built with planning input by local disabled groups, (20) Disabled community center examined and verified using a model, and (27) Government offices modified to provide barrier-free access from input by local residents.
  • When designing facilities, it is important to envision the kinds of users for each usage, keeping the following points in particular in mind.


  • What kinds of users are expected to use the facilities ?
  • What kinds of characteristics are the main users likely to have ?
  • What kinds of non-physical or service measures will be required for users ?


  • Will notifications or alarms during an emergency be properly conveyed to users ?
  • Is there a need to establish nursing rooms and install benches for changing babies’ nappies ?

Table: Examples of major checkpoints by building usage

Usage Design checkpoints
Schools ・ Design should be responsive to the characteristics of the students, but should also be mindful of the role schools can have as community facilities in lifelong learning and general community use.
・ Install multifunctional toilets.
Hospitals and clinics • The movement flow plan must be easy to understand.
• Paging announcements should be easy for elderly and disabled people to understand.
• Establish a clearly marked reception area with clear information systems.
• Seating should be positioned taking into account that elderly or disabled people will attend with friends and family.
• Wheelchair users should have a choice with their seating.
• Consideration should also be given to the fact that elderly and disabled people may have to access the dressing rooms and stage.
• Install information devices for visually or hearing impaired people.
Department stores, supermarkets and other shops • Ensure aisles between shelves are wide enough.
• Consider wheelchair users when setting shelf height.
• Install multifunctional toilets.
• Install infant facilities (areas for breastfeeding or changing nappies).
• Install information systems for visually or hearing impaired people.
• Establish rest areas and install courtesy seats.
• Establish a clearly marked reception area with clear information systems.
Hotels and inns • Guestrooms and bathrooms should be accessible by elderly and disabled people.
• Install or lease equipment, furniture and fixtures for visually or hearing impaired people.
• Use Braille for hotel information, and signs indicating evacuation routes, room names, etc.
• Prepare evacuation equipment and guidance measures.
Offices (excluding government offices) and factories • Office and factory design should take into account the needs of elderly or disabled workers.
Health centers, tax offices, and other buildings necessary for the public benefit • There should be no steps in the entrance.
• Install multifunctional toilets that can be used by elderly and disabled people.
• Paging announcements should be easy for elderly and disabled people to understand.
Apartments, dormitories and boarding houses • The design of common areas should consider their use by elderly and disabled people.
• Dwelling units should be responsive to the needs and characteristics of residents.
Nursing homes for the aged, welfare homes for physically disabled people, and other similar care facilities • Design of the facilities should be responsive to the needs and characteristics of users.
• The design should consider ease of assistance and nursing care.
• Facilities should be barrier-free taking into account they are institutional facilities where specific users spend their daily lives.
Welfare centers for the aged and for physically • Design of the facilities should be responsive to the needs and characteristics of users.
disabled people, welfare facilities for children, and other similar care facilities • These facilities are used by many elderly and disabled people, so there is a need to coordinate the interests of the users.
Usage Design checkpoints
Gymnasiums, bowling centers, skating centers, swimming pools, and other sporting/recreational facilities • Consideration should be given to the use of these exercise facilities by elderly and disabled people.
• Spectator seating and passageways to spectator seating should, like seating in theaters etc., take into account access by wheelchair users.
• Changerooms, showers and bathrooms should provide easy access for elderly and disabled people.
Exhibition halls, museums, art galleries and libraries • There should be adequate space between exhibits, bookshelves, etc.
• There should be no steps along the viewing route, and if there are steps, ramps or lifts should be installed.
• Install information devices for visually or hearing impaired people.
• Establish rest areas and install courtesy seats.
Public baths • Establish bathrooms that elderly and disabled people can use with ease.
• Consideration should be given to elderly and disabled people in the design of lockers in dressing rooms.
• Floors should have a non-slip surface.
• Faucets should be easy to use.
Restaurants, cabarets, nightclubs, dance halls, and other similar establishments • Install moveable tables and chairs in consideration of wheelchair users.
• Install multifunctional toilets that can be used by elderly and disabled people, and infants.
• Prepare menus in Braille.
• Give consideration to people with guide dogs.
Post offices, barbershops, cleaning agencies, pawn shops, dress hire company, banks and other similar service providers • There should be no steps at the entrance.
• Install multifunctional toilets that are accessible by elderly and disabled people.
• Paging announcements should be easy for elderly and disabled people to understand.
Driving schools, cram schools, flower arrangement schools, go schools and other similar facilities • Design of the facilities should be responsive to the needs and characteristics of users.
• Driving schools require a fixed course under the Road Traffic Law, so there is a need to keep in mind that this will restrict the siting of these facilities.
Public toilets • Install multifunctional toilet cubicles.
• Toilets should be designed with consideration to infants and ostomates.

(5) Improvements and renovations checkpoints Back toparagraph2-4 Skip toparagraph2-6

Upgrading existing buildings is an important step to promoting and expanding barrier-free access.

It is desirable that any building improvements or renovations aim for the same level of barrier-free access as that achieved in new building construction. There are, however, many difficulties in this, for example, limitations in the available space for renovations. Here we have listed the items considered to be a higher priority.

1) Passageways in the building grounds

  • Wide enough to allow elderly and disabled people to pass safely.
  • Removal of steps between sidewalks and roads, and along the boundary of the building grounds.
  • When it is not possible to remove steps by installing an ramp, use a wheelchair lift.

2) Entrance

  • Ensure entrances are the required dimensions.
  • Entrance structure.
  • Remove steps caused by the bottom door frame.
  • Change to doors of a suitable style.

3) Passageways and stairs

  • Appropriate width and shape.
  • When there are steps in a corridor, set up a suitably shaped ramp.
  • Install handrails on main stairs.
  • Use Braille on handrails.

4) Elevators

  • Cages are a suitable size and shape.
  • Use Braille and audible information devices in control panels.
  • Use wheelchair lifts where elevators cannot be installed.

5) Toilets

  • Install suitably equipped multifunctional toilet cubicles of an appropriate size.
  • If there is not enough space for multifunctional cubicles, install wheelchair accessible cubicles indicated in 2.7.2(2) instead.
  • If there is not enough space for multifunctional cubicles separately in both the male and female toilets, install cubicles where they can be used by both.

6) Car parks

  • Suitable parking spaces (size, passage, number of spaces) and placement for wheelchair users.
  • Install roofs or canopies over parks for wheelchair users near building entrances.

(6) Evacuation and guidance during a disaster Back to paragraph2-5 Back to paragraph2-1

  • When constructing a building, the evacuation of elderly and disabled people must be fully examined, and incorporated into the plan. Buildings these days are large and complex, and it is not always clear where the evacuation routes are. Evacuating elderly and disabled people requires considerable time and effort, and ensuring this is a smooth process is becoming increasingly difficult. The basic idea of disaster prevention plans is that access and evacuation routes must be easy for all people to understand, and this of course includes the elderly and disabled. That is, a clear understanding when entering the building, and a clear understanding when evacuating in an emergency must be the basis of any disaster prevention plan.
  • For their safe evacuation, the fact that an emergency (fire etc.) exists must be conveyed to building users without delay. Since there may not always be people around those with disabilities, there is a need to look into various ways of informing them of any danger, such as sound, lights, and other forms of personal help (e.g., from workmates in a workplace). However considering the extent of overtime and other work patterns in the modern office, relying only on colleagues to inform and provide assistance is quite risky indeed.
  • In a fire, the first evacuation priority is to be able to move away from the source of the fire. If a route has been secured, evacuees can make their way to the evacuation floor, and from there out of the building. When preparing specific designs, architects must confirm there are no obstacles to wheelchair users when passing through firewalls.
  • There is a need to secure refuges and temporary shelters for the safety of elderly and disabled people who require considerable time or assistance from others to evacuate after escaping through the fire doors. From this perspective, it would be effective to prepare temporary shelters separate from the line of evacuation in fireproof sections such as emergency elevator lobbies, emergency stairs and attached rooms, and balconies.
  • To move to the evacuation floor, people will have to use the stairs, elevators, and other means depending on the extent or state of their disability, and careful consideration must be given to establishing equipment and facilities according to the characteristic needs of users.
  • Most of these points can be achieved by a physical response (including equipment), but some will also need a personnel response.
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