The phrase “Equal Access” might not be very exciting, but it represents what many perceive to be a fundamental right of modern society. Every building built in the last 20 years has personified “Equal Access” by including doors wide enough for a wheelchair, elevator signage with braille lettering for blind persons, and auditoriums with hearing assist systems for those hard of hearing. While children in wheelchairs have “Equal Access to Learning” in school classrooms today, those with hearing difficulties are denied the same opportunity. In many classrooms, the students cannot hear the teacher due to the loud mechanical system or the nearby airport. And, if they can’t hear, they can’t learn. But that’s all about to change.
Proving once again that one person can make a difference, a parent set out to change the course of history in 1996 with a petition to the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board on behalf of their hearing-impaired child. Since that time, numerous organizations have jumped on the bandwagon to provide “Equal Access to Learning” for all students regardless of their hearing capabilities. Most prominently, the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) published a guideline document in 2002 for the proper acoustical design of educational classrooms. The document was so popular that it is used by the USGBC LEED for Schools certification program.
This collective effort for those persons hard of hearing is just now having a huge impact. Although it’s been a long time in the making, classrooms of the future will be designed so that students with hearing disabilities will be able to hear and learn.
And it’s not just students with hearing disabilities that will benefit from the new legislation. This will be a win-win for all those involved in the education process: teachers who strain their voices to be heard, younger children still learning vocabulary, students with English as a Second Language, and those with articulation and language disorders, dyslexia, learning disabilities, auditory processing disorders, and attention deficits.
At ABD Engineering & Design, we’ve already been working hard to design educational facilities with excellent acoustical environments for a long time. Over the past 10 years, I’ve presented seminars to more than 1000 school design professionals on the benefits of acoustical design in the classroom, and we’ve worked on some of the first LEED for Schools certified buildings in the Midwest. If you’re concerned about the acoustics of your next educational facility, give us a call. We can show you what we’ve learned, and we can help you provide equal access to learning for hearing impaired students.