Better Design Quality of Public Toilets for Visually Impaired Persons: An All-Round Concept in Design for the Promotion of Health

By Siu, Kin Wai Michael | The Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, November 2008 | Go to article overview

Better Design Quality of Public Toilets for Visually Impaired Persons: An All-Round Concept in Design for the Promotion of Health


Siu, Kin Wai Michael, The Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health


Abstract

According to United Nations statistics, about one-thirtieth of the world's population is visually impaired. These visually impaired persons (VIPs) face a variety of difficulties in their daily lives. This is the case not only in countries with a shortage of resources or with relatively low living standards, but also in developed countries. Most of the time, such difficulties in daily life come from the misunderstanding of VIPs' wants and needs and in turn poor design quality. To enhance equal opportunities in society, promote public health and improve the design quality of the public environment and facilities, a project on how VIPs access public toilets has been under way since 2004. To maintain better design quality in public toilets, the FISH concept has been initiated. This design concept includes the design considerations of friendly, informative, safe, and hygienic. This paper reviews the wants and needs of VIPs that should be considered in using public toilets, and the help that they need to be given. Based on the findings of the project, this paper then discusses how better quality designs for public toilets to promote public health can be obtained by implementing FISH.

Key words

FISH; visually impaired; toilet; human factors; reliability

INTRODUCTION

According to United Nations statistics, about one-thirtieth of the world's population is visually impaired with different types, levels and degrees of vision impairment. Visually impaired persons (VIPs) face different kinds of difficulties in their daily lives, in particular when they need to interact with the public environment and facilities with which they may not be familiar.1,2

In recent years, policymakers, researchers, sociologists, designers and engineers have made increasing efforts to improve this situation. Among the various projects, the key approach is generally to apply technologies to provide convenience (or overcome existing barriers to use) for VIPs. However, as many of the studies in European and other countries have shown, it remains clear that the situation is still unsatisfactory. This is due to the fact that these technologies may not fit the actual wants and needs of VIPs or function as they were planned and intended.

There are three general consequences of the failure to solve these difficulties: (i) VIPs minimize the number of times that they go out, in particular to places with which they are not familiar, (ii) if it is absolutely necessary to go to such unfamiliar places, they need to spend quite a lot of time (sometimes an unreasonable amount of time) preparing to go out, and (iii) they need to go out with the assistance of other people who are not visually impaired or with VIPs already familiar with the new places.

When leaving their homes or environments with which they are familiar, one of the most difficult places and the one which VIPs are least willing to visit are public toilets (see Note [I]). It is easy to imagine how difficult it must be for a VIP to use a public toilet to which he or she has not previously been. Even if a public toilet is a place with which a VIP is familiar, such facilities are commonly considered, recognized and understood to be dirty and full of infectious diseases. Even in developed countries with more well-established policies and better resources, complaints from VIPs regarding the inaccessibility and unpleasantness of public toilet environments and facilities are still frequently heard.

STUDY ON HOWVIPs ACCESS PUBLIC TOILETS

To develop the accessibility of public toilets and to promote public health, a research project on the existing designs of public toilets in Hong Kong and how VIPs access them has been in progress since 2004. The project is funded by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and assisted by the Hong Kong Toilet Association and several non-governmental organizations, which are providing services to VIPs in Hong Kong. …

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