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Efforts of Japan Tourism Facilities Association e-WA Project 2F Tako Building Kudan, 2-8-5 Iidabashi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Designing quasi-barrier-free guest rooms that are comfortable for not only wheelchair users but everyone
The Japan Tourism Facilities Association (JTFA) is a public interest incorporated association with a mission to conduct studies and research on the maintenance and improvement of the building services and interior designs of tourism facilities, such as hotels and ryokan inns, as well as on revitalization and city planning in sightseeing sites. The group consists of architects and engineers, with members including design firms, construction companies, manufacturers of building materials, equipment, furnishings, and other products, and individuals. JTFA was founded in 1953 and will mark its 70th anniversary in 2023.
The number of barrier-free rooms at lodging facilities has been inadequate considering the total number of wheelchair users. Convenience for wheelchair users would significantly improve if they had access to regular guest rooms. To solve this issue, JTFA conceived the possibility of increasing the number of “quasi-barrier-free rooms” that may not meet but can be used in accordance with legal standards. JTFA is engaged in the e-WA Project (electric-Wheelchair Assistance Project), which carries out research on universal rooms that are convenient for wheelchair users, do not interfere with or impair the guest room experience of able-bodied people, and facilitate the efforts of lodging facilities to increase accessibility and ensure bookings, all by introducing a newly developed electric wheelchair. We asked Takao Nodeki, vice chairman of JTFA and chairman of the JTFA Hotel and City Subcommittee, about their specific initiatives.
Our research started out with studying wheelchairs
We were not trying to design guest rooms with floor space and specifications largely different from those of regular guest rooms. Rather, our research was aimed at introducing a new electric wheelchair that would bring the movable dimensions of wheelchair users closer to those of able-bodied people. Our research initially began by studying various wheelchairs. Through trial and error, we discovered a wheelchair with mecanum wheels, which consist of several barrel-shaped tires mounted at 45-degree angles. This discovery opened the path toward a solution, and our research was quickly taken to a new level. It was truly an eye-opener. The mecanum wheel is an excellent wheel that can move not only forward and backward but also sideways and diagonally by activating each wheel with an individual motor, without changing the direction of the four wheels. The minimum rotation is at most 100 centimeters in diameter. With this wheelchair, users can stay in a regular guest room, rather than in a barrier-free room with the 150-centimeter diameter space required for turning. We realized that this wheelchair with a tight turning radius can greatly eliminate the obstacles to accessibility.
Launch of the e-WA Project
The e-WA project, which includes the production of prototypes with mecanum wheels, has been launched. Specifically, we have been holding exhibits and demonstration tests, among other activities. At the 2019 and 2020 International Hotel and Restaurant Show, we unveiled the prototypes named MoonWalk Pegasus No. 1 and MoonWalk Rose No. 2 and demonstrated their operation and effectiveness (Video 1).
I believe we were able to show that the electric wheelchair can offer tremendous convenience for wheelchair users who can use their upper limbs, including seniors, albeit on the condition that they switch to the electric wheelchair at the lodging facility. In addition, we showed that lodging facilities will find the electric wheelchair effective in making their regular guest rooms available also for wheelchair users, without making major alterations to the floor space or the floor plan configuration. In 2020, we conducted a demonstration test in a guest room (approx. 16.3 m2) at the Royal Park Hotel Tokyo Haneda (Video 2). By moving the furniture slightly, the wheelchair was able to travel without difficulty. While the approximately 1,600-millimeter by 2,000-millimeter dimensions did not offer ample space in the bathroom, the test fully demonstrated the advantages of the electric wheelchair that can move horizontally. Furthermore, we found that the 40-centimeter chair height adjustment feature allows users to reach hanger hooks, see through the door peephole, get a bath towel from a high towel rack, and get into a bathtub or sit on the toilet seat, among other conveniences. This feature will be useful not only in lodging facilities, but also in museums, art galleries, and other sightseeing facilities in Tokyo, as users will be able to visit exhibits and view the works from the same vantage point as able-bodied people.
Further evolution of new universal guest rooms: Improved guest room doors
Guest room doors are generally very heavy due to the added force of the closer to ensure sound insulation and fire protection. Guests can find this stressful, especially wheelchair users. To reduce this stress, we developed TOTTEMO, a door opening and closing aid. Adjustable delayed action door closers, which are already commercially available, can also considerably improve door maneuverability by wheelchair users (Video 3). When exiting the room, however, they must lean forward to pull the door toward them, and therefore, these tools do not eliminate their stress. So, we decided to shift the target of our research to doors that open and close automatically. In addition, although most guest room doors are swing doors chosen for their flatness, sound insulation, and fire resistance properties, sliding doors are easier to use for wheelchair users and seniors. Given these reasons, we are working to install sliding doors for hotel guest rooms and to automate their opening and closing. At the International Hotel and Restaurant Show, we had a mock-up exhibit of an automated swing door in 2021 (Video 4) and an automated sliding door in 2022 (Video 5) and demonstrated their potential. We have also proposed a prototype guest room floor plan (Figure 1) using this sliding door and prototype No. 2.
The e-WA Project will continue to carry out research and development for realizing universal guest rooms which able-bodied people will also find comfortable and which lodging facilities will find acceptable.
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