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Creating an Obstacle-Free Environment with Universal Design Concepts



Taipei MRT system is the first public transportation system in Taiwan to introduce the concept of "Obstacle-Free Facilities." Through planning and designing hardware facilities and software for services, DORTS strives to eliminate obstacles in station interiors and exteriors, and enable the mobility impaired to enjoy MRT resources along with the general public. Furthermore, to integrate with the creation and implementation of an obstacle-free urban living environment will encourage physically and mentally disabled people to go outdoors, expanding their self-living vision, and providing them with equal opportunities to participate in public affairs.

With the changes in social pulsations and design concepts, in order to reach the policy goal of "providing the public with safe, convenient, comfortable, and aesthetically pleasing public transportation," the design concept for obstacle-free at Taipei MRT has been transferred from "main use for the physically impaired" at early stage to "mutual use with the majority" after several years of discussion with group representatives, experts, and scholars. The current design planning for the construction and related hardware facilities of the MRT's obstacle-free environment has been integrated with the universal design.

The Application of Obstacle-Free Environment and the Universal Design

The basic concept of "Facilities for the Disabled" is to provide related supplementary facilities depending on the needs of the disabled. The goal is to eliminate barrier between people and obstacle for movement. The content includes the elimination for the barrier of physics, system, culture, information and sense.

However, the concept of obstacle-free facility cannot avoid the special facility for the special people such as the physical impaired and the elderly but lack of the multiplication and equality and even visual nature for the majority.

The "universal design" depends on a starting point design concept to provide a wide variety of facilities which can be fairly and equality utilized by the entire public. Simply stated, the design of products, buildings and environment has taken a step further from an obstacle-free concept to the environment for all users regardless of age, being impaired and transcending differences in nationality, abilities, and gender in order to provide facilities which are available for all to use. In addition, no design change or special specification is required.

According to the design concept and seven design principles of "the universal design' which "starts by providing everyone with a wide variety of facilities which can be used fairly and equally by everyone", the planning and design of MRT obstacle- free environment covering the vicinity of stations, station interiors and trains are inspected while being discussed the implement and connection between all facilities and universal design.

(I) Design for effective communication regardless of users' situations or users' sensory abilities

1. The informational content and directional guidance of "Outdoor signs" for guidance to entrances/exits or elevators outside stations and signposts for obstacle-free parking spaces can be easily discerned by layout graphics and contrastive colors. In addition, the heights and shapes of these signs have the function to prevent collisions with the visually impaired.

2. The layout content of light box signs or LED passenger information display system hung on the guidance path in stations utilizes graphics, text, and color contrast techniques to distinguish different labeling elements and to convey important information and directions.

3. To strengthen the interpretation of information, the enlarged male and female toilet identification symbols are posted at the entrances/exits of public restrooms, and auxiliary signs informing passengers of directions and distances to obstacle- free elevators are posted on platform screen doors.

4. Distinguishing information is posted on public restroom stall doors, such as squat toilet or seat toilet symbols along with Braille identification.

5. Sound broadcasts in trains, station indication display screens above train doors, directional door lights, as well as system route map and single route map near train doors effectively provide important information about train movements.

(II) Design cares safety and fairness

1. The level difference before entrances/exits or paths is designed with steps along with ramps. Warning tiles are paved in front of hazardous areas, and contrasting colored anti-slip strips are paved on the edges of stair steps to take care of safety.

2. Considering the fairness to all users, elevators are located near stairs and escalators and are guided with tactile path, which starts as the follows:
· Medium capacity system: from the elevator on the ground level→ free area→ obstacle-free ticket gate→ elevator in paid area→ platform(the first door of the third car)→ boarding the train.
· High capacity system: from the elevator on the ground level→ free area→ obstacle-free ticket gate→ elevator in paid area→ platform(the fourth door of the third car)→ boarding the train.

3. Mutual facilities such as public telephones, drinking fountains, ticket vending machines, and obstacle-free ticket gates provide other equipment that can fulfill functional needs of different users at the same area while caring of the usage fairness.

4. In accordance with different users' habits, public restrooms are divided into those with squatting or sitting style toilets. In addition, the gender equality and multi-function are taken into consideration, an obstacle-free toilet (also for parent with toddler) and an obstacle-free toilet (also for spinal cord injured users) are also located individually.

5. Braille has been added to buttons and operation panels in obstacle-free elevators, protruding floor numbers and Braille have been posted on both sides of door frames of elevators, and the height of operation panels has been lowered for wheelchair users to provide fair usage.

(III) Design to provide proper dimensions and space in response to the needs of movement space

1. At obstacle-free ticket gates, channels have been widened and heights have been lowered in order to facilitate the smooth movement of wheelchairs, strollers, and luggage.

2. In response to the requirements of wheelchair movement, the necessary dimensions and turning spaces at entrances/exits, fronts, or interiors the facilities such as elevators, ramps, and restrooms are planned. Furthermore, the design of empty space below sinks, telephones, and drinking fountains encourage higher accessibility of equipment usage.

3. In response to the needs of elderly users, the restrooms are located enlarged space with seat toilet and urinal both equipped with simple handrails.

(IV) Designs that reduce users' burden and can be easily operated with allowance of mistakes.

1. The designs of installed lightweight manual sliding doors in obstacle-free restrooms, electric sliding doors in parent with toddler restrooms, motion-sensing faucets, and automatic flushing toilets are utilized to reduce burdens due to limb atrophy.

2. Touch-control operating panels with voice prompts are utilized in ticket gates and ticket vending machines in order to simplify procedures and reduce the incidence of errors.


The goal of "Universal Design" does not require focusing on how to remove obstacles, but rather creating obstacle-free spaces and environments to be used by the entire public. The final objective and spirit should be an environment which can be safely, conveniently, and fairly utilized, and during planning and design, in addition to considering the necessity and functionality of usability for all people regardless of health or impairment of mobility and whether or not the common use will not result in conflicts or differences, external conditions such as economic feasibility, technical conditions, cultural elements, gender differences, and environmental impacts should also be incorporated into overall considerations for optimal universal design solutions.

Design planning for obstacle-free environments in the MRT system has already been integrated into concepts regarding universal-use designs, and in addition to the necessary condition for perfect hardware facilities and equipment in their follow-up promotion and implementation, philosophy and advocacy are factors which cannot be neglected and must be mutually complementary in order to multiply the effects. Furthermore, with the care and assistance provided initiatively by the general passengers if necessary, the genuine obstacle-free environment is believed just around the corner.

Statutory specifications will also be required to reflect the status quo and take national conditions into account. In order to avoid misunderstandings due to differences in interpretations of standards, competent authorities should co-ordinate to promulgate design specifications, and professional training should be also expanded for law enforcement personnel and design planning professionals in order to multiply the effects.

Signage for Obstacle-free access
Signage for Obstacle-free access

Obstacle-free ramp
Obstacle-free ramp

Obstacle-free ticket gate
Obstacle-free ticket gate

Braille inside elevator
Braille inside elevator

Voice system inside elevator
Voice system inside elevator

obstacle-free elevator
obstacle-free elevator

Direction sign on platform
Direction sign on platform

lower telephone for wheel chair users
lower telephone for
wheel chair users

Tactile for the visually impaired
Tactile for the visually impaired