Updated: Jul 24, 2022
According to the World Health Organisation almost 1/3 of people over the age of 65 suffer from hearing loss and around 5% of the world population is diagnosed with this condition. Yet from a certain perspective, hearing loss could be considered more of a 'difference' than a 'disability'.
Although the spatial demands and requirements for people with hearing disabilities are not as noticeable as for the visually impaired or for those who experience reduced mobility, the reduction of hearing capacity does entail a different way of experiencing the environment.
Is it possible to enhance the experience through the powers of interior design?
Designing for Inclusivity:
The first item to take into account is the differences in environments and activities and what they require; designing for the interior of a hospital is not going to be the same as for the interior of a house or a restaurant or a supermarket.
The relationships, dimensions and movements within each space are different as well as the volume and purpose of the sounds.
However, there are several considerations to take into account to design more acoustically comfortable environments.
Interior Layout and Visibility is key:
Hearing impaired people use a variety of different methods to communicate, incorporating written language, assistive devices, sign language, or speaking orally in some cases.
According to scientific research on average only 33% of spoken works can be understood by lip reading. Therefore it is essential to create spatial conditions for effective and easier communication through these methods.
So how can we improve the interior layouts of our environments?
There are many ways to improve the interior layout to improve accessibility and user experiences.
Wide or Circular Spaces:
A space that allows 4+ people to facilitate open communication where all the participants can see each other. Mobile furniture provides function and flexibility to organise these rooms.
Wider corridors provide greater space for people to look at eachother whilst walking, graphic security and signage are also useful.
Bright and Light:
Light plays an essential role in not only providing comfort but also improving communication. Colours that are visibly contrasting help other people better perceive facial expressions and hand movements.
Natural or artificial lighting needs to be sufficient to ensure vision but to avoid glare. Windows must regulate the interior light as well as glass and mirrors.
They say when someone looses a sense others become more powerful. Colours, vibrations and shadows can help people with hearing limitations to better understand their surroundings.
All about Acoustics:
Contrary to belief - Acoustic performance has impact on the wellbeing of people who suffer from low or severe levels of hearing loss.
This can play havoc and be very distracting for people with assistive hearing devices.
Reverberation from Sound Waves on hard surfaces can be both distracting and painful for them.
Improving the acoustics of indoor spaces is typically achieved through mainly reducing reverberation through the use of carefully selected sound absorbing materials.
Creating inclusive design does not always mean to create hyper awareness of special considerations, but can simply mean incorporating needs that tend to be basic for everyone, regardless of their physical conditions.
When developing concepts that are universally accessible , we must take into consideration that not all impediments are equivalent and that different limitations face different requirements.
Inclusive design goes above meeting set criteria or creating specialist spaces (Spaces are not truly inclusive if it depends on the construction of different places) - but rather avoiding such segregation to create our daily environments friendly to all people, regardless of their restrictions.
ICI Architecture Studio is an multi award winning architectural services provider delivering projects across the UK and Worldwide.
We operate in multiple sectors from Healthcare to Hospitality and specialist housing providers.
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