The Hyogo Institute of Assistive Technology

Assistive Device for Restroom Facilities at Temporary Housing

February-April 1995

Jiro Sagara / Professor, Kobe Design University

Text by Kei Kato

Assistive Device for Restroom Facilities at Temporary Housing

Jiro Sagara (Professor, Department of Product Interior Design, Kobe Design University)

  • Rehabilitation Center (at the time of activity)
  • Interviewed on: 9th September 2011


Neglected Restroom Requirement for Evacuation Shelters

After a couple of weeks after the earthquake hit Hanshin and Awaji area, our staff at the Rehabilitation Center conducted a survey on the situations at evacuation shelters.As a result, it was found that many elderly people living in evacuation shelters had health issues such as weakened muscles and decline of physical functions, as movement was limited at the shelter. Through community planning projects on which I worked on before the earthquake, I had always been concerned with public facilities equipped with very few western-style toilets, which do not require squatting like traditional Japanese toilets. So I have been looking for ways to address this very critical issue.So after the earthquake hit, I started helping the elderly in the evacuation shelters by making assistive technological solutions for restrooms and to support mobility. I know that our support was far less than what was really needed to respond to this massive natural disaster, but I still wanted to help, even for a small cause.

Back then, only Japanese style toilets were available at evacuation shelters.As the city of Kobe did not have portable restrooms, a number of portable restrooms were donated from throughout the country. However, none of them were western-style toilets. Western-style toilets are the norm in modern Japanese homes, but this was not the case at shelters. However, there was a strong need for western-style toilets at evacuation shelters as many elderly people and persons with disabilities could not use squat toilets.


Devising a Solution

As a solution to the restroom issue, we devised a special stool which can be placed on the existing Japanese style toilet. This assistive device allows elderly and disabled persons to use the traditional toilet without squatting. We built 22 handmade stools.The stools were then brought to the shelters and installed. We would have wanted to build more than 22 units, but it was the best we could do, given the timeline and the materials donated by companies.

We traveled from the Seishin area towards Sannomiya to set up the stools at shelters. It was difficult because we also had jobs of our own, but all the staff were driven by this important mission. Also, at that time, the direct water supply service was unavailable, and even the water supply at apartment buildings were cut off and did not resume for a while due to the tanks collapsing after the earthquake. There were also many elderly residents in the area where our office was located, so we delivered plastic containers filled with water by carts throughout our neighborhood.


Need for Easy-to-Understand Instructions

As much as I wanted to wait in front of the restroom to ask for user feedback, I refrained from this idea because I felt it is inappropriate. But despite my concern that users may step on the toilet seat (like they would normally do so with a Japanese traditional toilet), everyone seemed to have used the stool properly.

Now that I think back, a poster with pictures explaining how to use the stool might have been very useful. Likewise, a sign that says “Western-Style Toilet” may be effective to help identify the stool-installed toilets as there were five or six portable stalls at the restroom in shelters.


School was not a place to live

Although schools were designated as evacuation shelters in case of disaster, it became clear that they are not designed to provide living space as as they were not made to be elderly and handicap accessible. Learning from this, the Hyogo prefecture has passed a bill to make all schools accessible for all people. Now all schools in the prefecture are equipped with wheelchair accessible toilets.


Flexible Response is the Key

Equality is a new issue that we experienced from the Great East Japan Earthquake that occurred on March 11th.Even now, there are still a lot of donated goods that are left to be distributed.A part of the reason for that, is that organizations and governments are afraid of complaints if goods are not distributed fairly among all victims, and so some things are left over. While I feel that integrity is more important than fairness in this case, this is a challenge for all relief providers.I think that it is important to respond flexibly, by identifying the needs and providing support directly and as necessary.

Initial research


February-April 1995

Background and Objectives

The stools were devised to support assisted living of the people in evacuation shelters.In shelters occupied by many people, the residents were forced to live on one shared space despite the diverse needs they may have. As most shelters accommodated a large number of evacuees, they could not afford to allocate a private space for each of the occupants. In fact, occupants used open spare in rooms or even in hallways whenever they spotted them, to make a bed for themselves. Some occupants included the elderly and disabled people who, back at home, were able to move around independently by holding on to handrails or furnitures like a bed and chairs. Or others required use of a Western-style toilet or a portable toilet bowl in a closed, private area. All of these people were forced to live in public space in a shelter with little privacy, causing them a variety of stress and discomfort. In response, several devices were devised and introduced to reduce the burden to the occupants.Excerpt From Report from The Hyogo Institute of Assistive Technology


Elderly people and people with disabilities

Founder / Organizer

Akio Nakagawa, The Hyogo Institute of Assistive Technology, Hyogo Social Welfare Corporation Comprehensive Rehabilitation Center

Special Remark from Organizer

“Disaster relief providers may face similar issues addressed in this report in future disasters where many people are required to evacuate. Disaster response should reflect broader needs of residents at its planing, rather than depending on on-the-spot temporary solutions. Ultimately, it is my hope that our experience will be used to build a more inclusive community in which assistive technology, such as our stools, is no longer needed. “A