Carol Wilkinson is a Hearing Advisor at Better Hearing Australia (BHA) in Victoria. BHA is a not for profit organisation offering an advisory service to anyone with hearing problems.
It is vital that planners, architects and building designers consider people with hearing loss in order to enhance universal design of public spaces. Imagine you are going on a long awaited holiday. At the airport there is a delay to the flight but you are unsure why. A message comes over the PA system but you’re having trouble understanding it because you have a hearing loss and, even with hearing aids, the noisy background makes it impossible for you to hear the announcement. It is the middle of the night at your hotel and the fire alarm goes off. Thank goodness it’s a false alarm, because you don’t sleep in your hearing aids and you were not woken by this auditory signal. The restaurants and cafes that you dine in whilst away are noisy and this makes it difficult to converse with the new people you are meeting on your tour as well as the staff.
All these difficulties could be avoided or at least improved upon if more thought had gone into the design of buildings and facilities. Hearing loss seems to be a forgotten disability in many ways, not the least when it comes to providing public facilities. At least twenty percent of the population experience hearing loss with younger people also affected. Consequently, it is amazing that there is not a greater awareness of providing an inclusive environment for people who are deaf or hearing impaired. This paper will look at things that can help, whether at home or on holiday, and how it is much easier and cost effective it is to include them in design rather than retrofitting.