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Asian nations to develop universal design standards for eventual worldwide adoption

Nov. 18, 2003 -- Japan, China and South Korea are planning to develop a set of universal design standards for all three nations, with the aim of eventually having the standards adopted worldwide, according to a news report in the English-language edition of The Asahi Shimbun (Tokyo). The three nations are set for talks in the near future; "Japan intends to call for standards on containers and wrappings of household goods," reported the news outlet.

China plans to work to standardize signage for public facilities in time for the 2008 Olympic Games, which will be held in Beijing.

Japan, considered a leader in design, hosted a Universal Design conference in 2002. "Cities are changing but they are not yet people-friendly. Our life is full of products but they are not yet user-friendly," notes the Conference website (online at "In Japan, the most rapidly aging country in the world, seniors (those aged 65 or over) now account for about 18% of the population. In 2014 this figure is expected to top 25%. If we add in baby-boomers who are over 50 and are suffering from age-related physical problems such as deteriorating sight and muscle functions, even now this gives a proportion of 39% of the total population."

The Conference went on to explain the thinking behind universal design: "Though . . . seniors and those with various disabilities now have more opportunity to get out and about, urban environments and transportation systems are not yet fully equipped to cope; sometimes they are downright dangerous for elderly and disabled users. Children, pregnant women, and foreigners with different languages and customs face similar hurdles. Inconvenience and the risk of accidents are present all around us in places like kitchens and bathrooms and even in familiar appliances that we use every day. We believe that we should bring an end to designs aimed only at the young and able-bodied. When designing products and services, great care should be taken to avoid disadvantaging or excluding anyone just because of differences in age, gender, race, or ability. Of course, it goes without saying that the products that result from the design process must be safe, user friendly, and beautiful. Universal Design means designing for everyone."

The standards are planned for completion by next fall; the nations may ask the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to adopt the universal design standards; in In 2001, the ISO presented guidelines for member nations to establish standards for elderly friendly products.

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Edward Steinfeld, Arch. D., Director, is is a Professor of Architecture an expert in accessible design, universal design, human factors research, aging, home modifications, architectural design, product research. research on accessibility and universal design in housing, usability of automobiles for frail older people, methods for measuring the usability of products and environments and the development of a prototype "Universal Bathroom." He is a frequent expert consultant on ADA compliance and building safety. He can be reached by email at

Center for Inclusive Design & Environmental Access School of Architecture and Planning - University at Buffalo Phone : 716-829-3485 ext. 329, Fax: 716-829-3861, E-mail:

The Center for Universal Design at
North Carolina State University
School of Design
Tel/TTY: 919-515-3082
Fax: 919-515-7330
InfoLine: 800-647-6777
Laurie Ringaert
Executive Director (for general questions), or

Leslie Young
Director of Design (for housing questions)

Adaptive Environments
Valerie Fletcher, Executive Director
617/695-1225 x 26

Elaine Ostroff, Founding Director
617/695-1225 x 30




The following sites contain information that may be of interest. Please bear in mind that the information at these sites is not controlled by the Center for An Accessible society. Links to these sites do not imply that the Center supports either the organizations or the views presented.
Read and/or sign up for the free monthly online e-newsletter from RERC on Universal Design at Buffalo at

"Designing a More Usable World for All," a good overview on universal design from the Trace Center

In 1999, The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) funded the Center for Universal Design as a research center on Universal Design and the Built Environment, to advance the field of universal design.

Adaptive Environments Center, Inc. is helping school systems across the country come into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law seeks to ensure that persons with disabilities are afforded the same rights as every other citizen, including access to programs and services provided by public schools. Read more about Adaptive Environments' school project.

Proceedings of "Designing for the 21st Century An International Conference on Universal Design" held June 14-18, 2000 in Providence, Rhode Island are online at the Adaptive Environments Center website at

The city of Boston has made a written commitment to universal design in its plan to redevelop the South Boston Waterfront. Adaptive Enviroments offers a sampler of examples of universal design for types of places that will be developed in the project. Read about Adaptive Environments' role in the South Boston Waterfront redevelopment

Concrete Change is an international grassroots effort "to make all homes visitable," says founder Eleanor Smith. "People who use wheelchairs, walkers and other mobility aids are blocked by steps at every entrance of a home. They’re stopped by inches from fitting through the bathroom door in a friend or relative’s home." The group focuses strictly on home access to "the most essential features: entering a home and fitting through the interior doors. Website:

A short "visitability" handout is available from Concrete Change at

AbilityHub is designed to help consumers locate information on adaptive equipment and alternative methods available for accessing computers.






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