Hearing loss is very common and can be the result of many causes. Some instances are caused by disease, hereditary factors, accidents such as head injuries, or exposure to loud noise. However, the most common reason for hearing loss is the natural aging process.
Depending on the type and degree of hearing loss, it can have a significant impact on our ease of communication and interactions with family, friends and the wider community. As a result, many of those who experience hearing loss often report that their enjoyment and quality of life has been impacted in a significant way. MGAC’s Senior Access Consultant, Lee May Whong, takes a closer look at accessibility and hearing augmentation.
The challenges of hearing loss
Hearing loss often requires a variety of news skills to be learned. It also requires access to a wide range of assistive technology. This may include hearing aids, cochlear implants, assistive listening devices and assistive listening systems available in public facilities, including but not limited to, cinemas, places of worship, shopping centres, universities and transport terminals.
It is now typical for these types of public places to require assistive technology, most often in the form of varying types of ‘hearing augmentation’, not every section of these public spaces is required to have such accessibility features. While the ‘Deemed-To-Satisfy’ coverage requirements for many of these floor spaces jumped from 15% to 95%, many of those who suffer from hearing loss still experience day-to-day challenges in public places.
Living with hearing loss
Sally, a dear friend who retired several years ago to spend more time with her granddaughter, shared what it is really like to live with hearing loss:
“Before experiencing hearing loss, I could really appreciate the need of good acoustics in music theatres, but I took little notice of other venues and places be they cafes, cinemas, shops, or other shared public spaces.
I now experience difficulties at casual meetings and gatherings, even in small group get togethers are difficult. This also extends to the school classroom of my nine-year-old granddaughter – even when the children are quiet! There are echoes, fans and background noise that adds to all the difficulties in hearing.
Classical music and Opera I still really enjoy. Thankfully due to the good acoustics of a purpose-built venue, creating wonderful memory and emotions. However, I now miss out on the pre-performance talks and the sociability that I used to enjoy so much of the event.”
Sally is not alone in her experience of increased isolation in the face of hearing loss. As Sally notes, hearing loss extends beyond the physical element – it also affects how she can actively participate within her community and in events she dearly loves.
Defining ‘hearing augmentation’
As accessibility consultants, our expert knowledge extends to the needs of those affected by a hearing impairment. This means we have to be aware of the updates to the Building Code of Australia (BCA) and the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) as they refer to ‘hearing augmentation’ services and systems.
‘Hearing Augmentation’ is defined within the Australian Standard AS 1428.5 – 2010, Design for access and mobility, Part 5: Communication for people who are deaf or hearing impaired, as:
“The communication of information for people who are deaf or hearing impaired by using a combination of audio, visual, and tactile means.”
Hearing augmentation can come in many shapes and forms. For example, assisting listening systems (ALSs), flashing lights, vibrating alert system, telephone typewriters (TTYs) and sign language are all examples of hearing augmentation.
There are also a number of hearing augmentation systems available for those who are deaf or hearing impaired. The three major types of assistive listening systems that are in current use, and required by the National Construction Code (NCC), are:
- Hearing Loop systems
- FM systems, and,
- Infra-red (IR) systems.
Not every hearing augmentation will suit each individual public space that requires such features. Deciding on which system to use will often depend on a range of factors including the preference of likely users, confidentiality implications, the size and use of the space, external interferences and the building materials used.
For this reason alone, it is best to consult closely with accessibility consultants in order to determine which hearing augmentation solution is most suitable for an individual room, space or project.
Amplifying good communication
Good quality communication systems are so important. The effects of hearing loss and associated conditions can have a significant impact on the individual’s lifestyle. There is no one solution that will suit all people with hearing loss.
However, attention should be given, as a minimum, in providing appropriate acoustic environments that incorporate well designed amplification and assisting listening systems.