Accessibility is a universal consideration – It benefits people from all walks of life in all different contexts.
I visited Japan for the first time in January for an action packed few weeks of enjoying the snow, sights, sounds and cuisine. Being fit and active in my late 20s, I was unconcerned about how full my schedule was. The more things to do the better. However, I did not account for my travelling companion injuring herself skiing on the 3rd day of our trip.
From here on out the whole approach to our trip changed. As she was in crutches (or in a wheelchair in places that would let us borrow one), we had to be very calculated in our movements. Places we wanted to visit need lift access. If lifts were not provided, stairs with proper handrails such that I could take my friend’s crutches and she could hop up the steps grabbing the handrails and my arm for assistance.
This became routine for places we travelled including temples, nature walks (say goodbye to the visiting the snow monkeys), highly recommended restaurants or izakayas, sumo stadiums and everywhere we went for the following weeks.
Since we were in unfamiliar locations, understanding the signage became prevalent as well. Without a firm grasp of Japanese writing, we relied upon universal symbols indicating where lifts were, or accessible paths of travel. Full marks to the train system, where there is a video screen above each of the train doors that showed in writing and diagrams where the lift was in relation to the train carriage at the following station. It is interesting that this feature on the trains is not a mandatory requirement here in Australia, yet was one of the most useful practical accessible design features that we encountered.
Suffice to say that we didn’t have too much trouble at all navigating our way through Japan. In general we were still able to do most things in our itinerary – it just took some extra planning, which I know is integral to how a person with a disability would also approach even a regular outing to get groceries. When we adopt the principles of accessible design, we think we are designing for people with a disability. But really, as a person in a foreign environment with little grasp of the language and a friend who sustained an injury, it really shone through that accessible design benefits everyone.
I certainly came out of my trip with a greater appreciation for the many little ways that accessible design can impact of the ease and effictiveness with which we interact with the built environment.