Creative Ways To Account For Hearing Abilities In Your Next Build 

As a designer, architect, or project executor, it is important to remember that not everyone has the same hearing abilities. While some people are fully deaf, there are others that have acute sound sensitivity, gradual hearing loss, or other unique situations. As such, keep in mind how a variety of people will experience the space you are working on, and how you can make it more comfortable and appealing to them all. 

Sound Sensitivity 

It is safe to say that most healthcare facilities, senior living facilities and corporate centers are not going to pump out blaring music or anything else that is shockingly loud. Still, people with extreme sound sensitivity (in some cases called hyperacusis) can find even relatively normal sounds to be intolerable. 

In areas where the volume on an interactive TV or other AV solutions could be ratcheted up by one patient, resident, visitor or employee, it can be helpful to provide proactive solutions to those in proximal areas. For example, consider using sound masking solutions to drown out the noise, or be mindful of placing the most sensitive folks away from the areas with the most potential for noise.

What about if you happen to be working on a building that will be home to a naturally loud setting, like a sports arena or other event venue? In such cases, think about creating a quiet space where people who are overwhelmed by noises can enjoy a break from the commotion. You might also go a step further and offer complimentary earplugs for those who cannot tolerate the sound otherwise. 

Deafness & Hearing Loss 

There is an entire spectrum of hearing loss, from minor all the way to full deafness. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) has requirements for what businesses must do in order to adequately serve those with hearing impairment. Specifically, it mandates that “Title III entities (businesses and nonprofit organizations that serve the public) communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities. The goal is to ensure that communication with people with these disabilities is equally effective as communication with people without disabilities.”

The Kennedy Center put together a helpful guide for accommodating those with hearing loss in museum settings, but it’s useful across industries. It recommends providing an assistive listening system (ALS), which is a tool designed to improve audibility in certain environments. It delivers sound to the listener without interference or loss of intelligibility by reducing the noise-to-sound ratio.

The guide goes on to say that organizations may determine whether areas in their facilities are required to have assistive listening systems by answering the following questions:

  • Is audible communication integral to the use of the space?
  • Is audio amplification provided?

Engage All Senses

No matter what you must do in order to satisfy the ADA requirements for those with communication disabilities, it is important to always remember the greater human experience. Challenge yourself to think about how you can stimulate all the senses a person has when they walk into the space you are designing or managing. 

Avoid relying too heavily on one sense more than the others. Get creative in how you use signage, lighting, sounds, smell, and even taste to create an atmosphere that invites all people, from all walks of life. 

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