12 Jul Five things architects must do to meet the BS 8300 standards for people with hearing loss – and why
Meeting the needs of people with hearing loss
There are 11 million people in the UK (1 in 6) with hearing loss and close to half of those wear a hearing aid. As the largest group within the disabled community, they represent a significant consumer spend and a significant proportion of (potential) employees.
The BS 8300 standard offers detailed examples of what constitutes best practice regarding hearing loops to assist people with hearing loss, meaning premises now have a benchmark against which they can be measured.
Inclusivity needs to be central to the design process to avoid costly modifications further down the line. Here are five things architects must do to meet the revised standard.
- Aesthetics or acoustics?
Modern design means the aesthetics of a space often take priority over the user experience. A study by RNID into people’s experience of restaurants, cafes and pubs found that 91% of people would not return to a venue because noise levels were too high. This is undoubtedly influenced by their design which will invariably involve hard surfaces, high ceilings and open spaces.
Designing in quiet zones and acoustic treatments are a key consideration alongside incorporating induction loops. And in more hazardous environments, the positioning of refuge or assistance points is vital for those with hearing loss.
- Get specialist advice
Hearing loops amplify the sound a person wants to hear. They convert sound picked up by a microphone into a magnetic signal. This is transmitted by a loop aerial and is picked up by the telecoil in a wearer’s hearing aid and converted back to speech.
Hearing loops come in a variety of applications so it is important to understand not only which loop is appropriate but also how best to set it up so it performs well.
A professional will assess the design of a space and the effect this could have on a loop system’s performance. Metal, for example, can have a significant impact as it causes a loss of current power.
Specialist installers can also make the difference between design preferences being possible and not. They can advise on the right loop configuration so sound doesn’t bleed through to other areas and cause nuisance or compromise confidentiality and save you having to consider acoustic compensation.
They are also key in deciding on the loops’ location – positioning them away from significant power sources or the vibration generated by air conditioning units for example.
- Plan at the earliest stage
Loop systems, particularly those in large environments such as a theatre, involve a considerable amount of wiring.
Make the loops part of planning at the earliest stage, just as you would a fully accessible doorway or lift system, to avoid compromising your design at a later stage or a costly retrofit.
- Design in access for maintenance
The BS 8300 standard is clear that best practice includes ‘reactive and preventative maintenance’ to make sure hearing loops work. While this isn’t the architect’s responsibility, being conscious of this requirement at the design stage will mean it does not become an issue once your role is over.
Keep this in mind should you be involved in structural changes or refurbishment as building work or a change in the materials used could affect a loop’s performance.
- Consider signage
Loops are of little use to a user if they are not aware they are available. Signs should be displayed wherever a loop can be used.
Make sure signage is clearly visible and won’t be compromised by other aspects of the design. Think about sight lines and any barriers to people being able to identify a loop’s location.
Why it matters
The number of people with hearing loss in the UK is expected to rise to 14.5 million by 2031. This equates to one in five of the population.
The revised BS 8300 is a key part of creating premises fit for the future that are inclusive and welcoming to all members of society. While it is not enforceable by law, the Standard now offers a benchmark against which provision can be measured.
From an architect’s point of view, understanding and implementing this new standard is essential in helping clients to comply. It also safeguards them against legal challenges.