DeafSpace: Architectural design for people who are deaf

Two men are walking on a path between two buildings.Who would think that deafness and ramps are connected? For people who sign, it’s easier and more fluent if there are no steps in the way. They don’t have to watch where their feet are going either. This is one of the things that underpins the notion of DeafSpace.

People who are deaf inhabit space in different ways to others. DeafSpace is about aligning their way of being to environments. But designs that suit are not a problem for others. Indeed, wider walkways and no steps are great for everyone.

This four minute video below shows it’s not difficult to achieve. Once things are pointed out, it becomes obvious. The video has basic design features both inside and outside buildings that include people who sign to communicate. The features shown are universal because they are good for everyone. 

“I don’t need a microphone.” But yes, you do

Picture of an ear with sound wavesThere are three types of hearing augmentation systems – but which one to use? The system preferred by most users is a “hearing loop”. It is connected to the sound system in a meeting room or auditorium. People wearing a hearing device with a telecoil, have the sound sent directly to the device. It screens out all the background noise and gives definition to the speech. However, a microphone must be used all the time. So no more “I’ve got a loud voice, I don’t need a microphone” because it won’t be transmitted.

Hearing Connections website gives an explanation of this system, FM and Infra-red systems. A system with an ambient microphone that picks up all the sound in the room amplifies all the sounds – so background noise is included with the speech. It can defeat the object. Also, the system should be turned on automatically – no-one should need to ask for it – that’s the point. Building designers, owners and managers have a legal obligation to incorporate the needs of people who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

Editor’s comment: I’ve been given lots of different reasons why the hearing system isn’t working. I’ve been told that permission is needed from  security to turn it on, as well as being told it can’t be switched on because people outside the room might hear confidential information. Clearly, having the system installed and connected is one thing, and training people about its use and purpose is another. 

Can everybody hear me? Protocol for meetings and events

Front cover of the protocol for meetings and events. People who can’t hear well at meetings tend to avoid them. This means their voices are left out of focus groups and community consultations. Consequently, hearing issues are not heard or catered for (excuse pun). It also means they don’t go to group events at restaurants or even family gatherings because it gets frustrating and also tiring when trying to concentrate on listening all the time. Ideas for Ears in the UK is actively advocating for people with hearing loss and has developed the Hearing Access Protocol for meetings and events. it provides guidance on how to run meetings and events so people with any hearing ability can hear and follow them. The Protocol was developed by people with hearing loss. You can download the PDF version of the Protocol. People with hearing loss should be able to participate in civic events and activities on the same basis as others.