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Haneda sets standards for barrier-free airports

The universal design principles incorporated into the passenger areas at Haneda Airport's new international terminal have been acclaimed as world class and can serve as a blueprint for integrated "barrier-free" facilities in similar facilities around the world.

So much thought has gone into the design of the airport, which serves Tokyo, that it even has dedicated indoor toilet facilities for people who are accompanied by a guide dog.

Tokyo International Air Terminal Corp. said in a statement that it has endeavored to make the new terminal as user-friendly as possible, "incorporating the principles of universal design so that every customer can make use of our facilities easily and with peace of mind."

The operator of the airport set up a design committee in the earliest planning stages, including people with disabilities - ranging from wheelchair users to people with vision and hearing impairments - as well as representatives of airlines and railway companies that serve the airport.

One of the biggest debates was over the design of the toilets for people who need assistance from a helper. A problem the designers encountered was with automatic doors that open when the user approaches, but can also be triggered by the helper and expose the person on the toilet.

The panel eventually opted to use doors that are opened manually but are made of very lightweight material to make them easier to open and close.

Emergency buttons in the elevators are designed for people with hearing impairments and, because an intercom system cannot help them, airport employees trained in sign language are immediately dispatched to the elevator.

Similarly, the terminal's arrivals and departures boards use clearer fonts and larger text than are used in other airports, while information counters also have message boards for hearing-impaired travelers and staff to communicate. Maps of the facilities are also provided in braille

The terminal also has a number of state-of-the-art mobility carts to transfer people with physical disabilities, the elderly or people traveling with young people, while the airport is also the first in the world to incorporate boarding bridges that do not slope up or down for passengers.

The designers have also tried to make the experience of using the airport easier for other passengers, with 85 staff on hand at information counters, all of whom speak English and many also able to communicate in Chinese and Korean.