"Kikubarier-free" Communication between People of Different Character

- A Holistic Concept with a Universal Awareness of Empathy

People with different characters live in various life-styles within society. It is not easy for one to develop good human relations with, or to communicate with those who have a different character from ones own. However, the communication between those having different characters can be improved by sharing necessary information and issues to be considered. Sympathy allows us to remain detached, while empathy changes us through the direct experience of another person's situation. This paper illustrates the simple but dramatic results of moving away from the professional attitude of "sympathy" toward an inclusive and universal awareness of "empathy". We named such an attentive manner gKikubarier-freeh and propose a forum for developing this concept. Our group consists of members of both genders and various ages, and some members have visual, auditory, or physical impairments. This paper presents actual examples of gKikubarier-freeh communications experienced by our group.


Our volunteer group, organized to study universal design, consists of members of both genders and various ages, including members with visual, auditory or physical impairments.
The members with impairments have suffered inconveniences in various situations in their life. In addition, when communicating among people with different characters, they often encounter difficulties. We tried to specify the inconveniences, and to mutually understand the characters of the members. After these efforts, the communication among the members was markedly improved to smoothly transmit their intentions to each other.
When there is mutual respect, people could understand each other very well. Considering the situation of others enables one to develop closer human relations. We found that the communication among people of different character could be improved by mutually understanding each other's character. This enabled better consideration of each other. In turn, such consideration removed barriers in developing good human relations and good communications. We named this attentive manner gKikubarier-freeh, which was newly made by combining the two words of gKikubarih and "barrier-free".
In this paper, several examples of the gKikubarih (thoughtful, empathetic) communications experienced in our group are presented. Also mentioned is our website which has been published for introducing our gKikubarih activities. Mental aspects of universal design, including attitude and emotion will be discussed.


1. Confusing communications, unintended consequences

Many articles about the words "universal design" and "barrier-free" and the concepts behind them, as well as about people with impairments have been published in the media, but most people have not fully understood the characteristics of impairments yet. Ignorance or unconsciousness of impairments can often bring not only ineffective supports, but also excess responses or adverse reactions, occasionally resulting in dangerous situations.

Some examples are illustrated below.

1) Misunderstanding
< In a train -1>

Person 1: Please take my seat.
Person 2: Thank you for giving me your seat.
The Kikubari key you need to understand the situation:
Person 1 then tried to give his seat to the aged person next to him, not person 2.
< In a train -2 >
There was a small space of seat between two women.
Person 1: Could you please make a space for me?

When the two women moved and made space for person 1, he noticed that there were plenty of other spaces.

These are not funny anecdotes, but real experiences that Mr. A, a person with visual impairment actually had.

Kikubari insight: People with visual impairments can often not clearly identify to whom they are speaking, or they may make a wrong decision based on the little that they can see.

2) Loud voice
< In front of his home >

A neighbour, knowing that Mr. B has an auditory impairment always talks to him very loudly. Her loud voices seem to carry a long way, but he cannot hear her voices at all.

< At the city hall >
An officer talks to Ms. C who has auditory impairment loudly and very slowly. Ms. C can neither hear his voices, nor read his lips because the motion of his lips is too slow.

Kikubari insight: Auditory impairments are mostly recognized as hypacusia. Neither loudly speaking to people with auditory impairment arising from the sensorial hearing loss is effective for communication, nor too much slowly speaking because it is hard for them to read the speakerfs lips and to identify the ends of sentences.

3) To whom are you talking?
< At a shop >

Ms. M with physical impairment arising from cerebral palsy is provided with support for moving in the wheelchair and for shopping outside from helpers. Even when she asks a question of a cashier herself, the cashier often responds to the helper, not to her. Even, in some cases the change is given to the helper.

< At the city hall >
Auditory impaired Mr. L, requested sign language support for carrying out a procedure. The officer directed his explanations of the documents to the sign language interpreter only, not to Mr. L, although he was trying to read the officerfs lips to understand the explanations.

Kikubari insight: Many people may assume that impaired people are unable to understand whatfs being said to them without assistance. Even though they may need some physical and conversational support, they are the main doers. Their dignity is affronted when the conversation bypasses them.

4) Dangerous support
< In a train >

Ms. T has a physical impairment arising from damage of her cervical vertebrae usually moves in a wheelchair. Mr. S is a colleague in a research society. On a trip, Mr. S supported the wheelchair in which Ms. T was seated, into a train. When getting off the train, Mr. S pushed the wheelchair forward to the platform. The front wheels caught into the space between the train and platform, and the wheelchair tilted forward. Ms. T was suddenly thrown out onto the platform. Fortunately, she was not hurt badly.

Kikubari insight: Mr. S was familiar with his colleague's impairment, but did not master the fundamentals of supporting a wheelchair. He realised then for the first time that someone seated in a wheel chair couldnft brace his/her legs. It can be occasionally dangerous to give aid without acquiring the fundamental skills, even when the support is given with the right heart.

5) Excessive attentiveness
< At a restaurant >

Ms. M with physical impairment arising from damage in the cervical vertebrae went to a restaurant with several people. A spoon and a fork were given to her according to their suggestion. However, she wished to use chopsticks.

< At the city hall >
At the city hall Ms. L, who has an auditory impairment happened to meet Mr. P, a member of the sign language group she belongs to. Although she declined his help, Mr. P accompanied with her to a service window. She wished to go to the service window by herself since her business was of a private nature.

Kikubari insight: Despite impairments, support is not always requested or welcome.

As shown in the examples above,

1) Ignorance of the characteristics of impairments brings inappropriate results without any mutual consciousness. Unconsciously giving people with disabilities annoyances.
2) Ignorance of the characters of disabled people and wrong impression causes inappropriate responses.
3) Inappropriate reactions without any consideration of the personality of the partner.
4) Lacking the fundamental supporting skills, though the nature of the disability is fully understood, can result in inappropriate or even dangerous consequences.
5) The offered support does not coincide with the wishes of the person receiving it.

Even if someone gives support in a positive and considerate manner when the character and feelings of the partners are misunderstood, it often produces inappropriate reactions.

2. gKikubarih communications with mutual understanding

Several examples of gKikubarih communications experienced in meetings and conversations among the members, and of those crossing barriers, are shown below.

We identified Kikubari communications in professional situations:

1) gKikubarih communications in meetings
Giving onefs name before speaking, so that people with visual or auditory impairments, as well as those who attend a meeting for the first time, or those who take a note or the minutes, can identify the speaker.

2) gKikubarih communications in conversations
Talking clearly with people in a euphonious manner, and if possible with gestures, so that those with auditory impairments can easily obtain accurate information by reading a speakerfs lips, even without sign language support. Such expressive conversations in a face-to-face manner enable clear transmission of intentions universally.

3) gKikubarih communications in presentations
It was found that Power Point presentations created barriers in communication with those having visual and auditory impairments. We therefore tried to realise gKikubarih presentations.

This included
a) Informing the attendees of the contents of presentations in the manner of text data in advance, so that the attendees, as well as the sign language interpreters, can understand the contents well.
b) Explaining intelligibly the photos and figures in slides, so that the attendees can understand. One photo or figure should be used in each slide, and an oral caption should be added.
c) Facing and speaking clearly to the audience, so that people with auditory impairments can read the speaker's lips, and the rest of the audience understand the contents better as well.

We also identified gKikubarih communications in daily life:

4) gKikubarih communications in towns
When people with visual impairments cross a street at a traffic light-controlled intersection without any audio traffic signals, information from moving cars and pedestrians around them is important. Someone was exposed to danger when he followed a pedestrian crossing at a red light.

Kikubari insight: It is important to give a word of attention to visually impaired people when a traffic light turns, as everyone is a gtraffic lighth for them.

5) gKikubarih communications in live performances of a band
The seats for disabled people were located furthest away from the stage. When the enthusiastic audience in front of them stood up to experience the performance, they couldnft see the stage at all. However, when the audience watched the performances while seated, guests with disabilities really enjoyed the performances and became fans of the band.

These examples demonstrate that gKikubarih "consideration-with-consciousness" result in good mutual understanding.


Our group has already registered many examples of thoughtful-communication experiences. We are therefore building a gKikubarier-freeh website where these examples are presented in a convincing manner so that the visitors to this website can become interested in the different characters of people, and appreciate the issues considered.

1) Objectives of the website
a) To accumulate gKikubarih considerations obtained in the experiences where people of different character tried to understand each other sufficiently in their mutual communications and relations.
b) To promote the visitorsf consciousness by making the website easy to understand.
c) To exchange information about gKikubarih activities by actively publishing information about our activities, and by promoting the contribution of outside subscribers.

2) Contents of the website
a) Q&A about gKikubarih: Showing examples of actual communications to clarify what kinds of gKikubarih considerations are necessary to relate to each other sufficiently.
b) gKikubarih insights: Providing the basic knowledge about various characters, and fundamentals of gKikubarih.
c) Experiences in gKikubarih activities: Providing useful information collected in gKikubarih activities, made by both supporters and supportees, in a dialog form to help readers to make sure what consideration is appropriate, or inappropriate, for supporters, as well as for supportees.

This gKikubarier-freeh website is planned to start in August 2006. It will enable us to publish gKikubarih information, as well as to receive material provided by outside contributors. While we already plan to update the website continuously, we anticipate that the contents will be both greatly enriched and changed by its interactivity.


We should not take the concepts of the universal design and barrier-free in a one-way manner, such as from disabled to non-disabled people or from non-disabled to disabled people. This concept suggests mutual concession. Rather, by showing appropriate consideration for each other people can step by step finally achieve better communications with each other. This widened consciousness includes both parties in a single, holistic process. It moves from away from the professional attitude of "sympathy" toward an inclusive and universal awareness of "empathy". Sympathy allows us to remain detached, while empathy changes us through the direct experience of another person's situation. We have named this process gKikubarih.

At this international conference, we might add those aspects arising from the difference in language and custom to the current concept of gKikubarih. Whatever your background, your attitudes and your needs we hope that the ideal of empathy between people can connect us and provide an inclusive platform for the practice of universal design. We hope that many people will grasp and embrace the holistic concept of gKikubarier-freeh and that it will provide a useful, broader and more humanistic tool for inter-cultural and cross-barrier communication and mutual support in the future. Finally, we invite you to join our website and contribute to the Kikubari spirit.

(c)2006 Kyoyo-Hin Net