Under the Equality Act 2010 reasonable adjustments must be made to ensure those with a disability are considered in all public buildings - including the hard of hearing, says Gary Leverington of Action Hearing Loss.
6 June 2017 | Gary Leverington
Eleven million people in the UK have a form of hearing loss - one in six. By 2035 this will have increased to 15.6 million (one in five). It is imperative for facilities managers to make buildings fit for occupiers and customers with hearing loss.
It is also a legal requirement - the Equality Act 2010 and Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland protects people who are deaf or have hearing loss from discrimination. It also makes good business sense; without being properly equipped you could be excluding one in six of the population.
Action on Hearing Loss has been involved in the installation of assistive technology for over 20 years. Fear of legal repercussions because of an accelerated need to change has often resulted in bad decisions being made. The challenges that these positive changes were identified to address have created additional issues to what some feel is enforced and ineffective legislation.
The public and bodies responsible for providing access to the public have told us about such contributing factors:
Poorly installed assistive technology - the seemingly simple task of installing loops undertaken by enthusiasts with no formal training.
Lack of maintenance - most installed technology will be regularly maintained, however, loops are often low in priority.
Audio selection - Even the best technology will only be as effective as the audio input presented. Poor microphone selection or the expectation of both user and facilitator can wildly affect the capabilities of even the simplest system.
Now, driven by legislation like the BS7594 and the EN60118-4:2006, a number of affiliated services have become key to improving user experience. Technology is changing and FMs must appreciate the importance of correctly installed systems.
The term 'loop' really refers to the delivery method, similar to radio systems, but it is often used to address all assistive technology available. 'Loop' can also refer to a number of different types of systems.
Counter loops - Small coverage systems designed for one-to-one conversations. Installed systems are far superior to portable ones.
Perimeter loops - the most common type, which are very cost-effective. They are easier to retrofit and can provide support in meeting rooms and training areas. They do, however, suffer from overspill (the magnetic 'bleed' that loops create - bad for confidentiality and systems in close proximity).
Single array - ideal when you can identify the position of the hearing aid wearer, e.g. churches, lecture theatres or classrooms. They provide greater coverage and quality but can suffer from 'dead spots' (areas where the signal is lost) - not a problem if you can predict where users will be.
Phased array - the complete solution providing excellent clarity and coverage. They can also be designed to minimise overspill and improve confidentiality. Both the single and phased array are more difficult to retrofit and may even require the floor finishing being lifted to allow for the more elaborate loop aerial.
These questions will help you to decide if a loop system is the most appropriate answer.
- Did someone struggle to talk to your receptionist?
- Is your environment free of background noise?
- How many people will benefit from this system?
- Is the room used for meetings, seminars or social events - and how large is it?
- What is the level of background noise from equipment such as air conditioning?
- Do you already offer some support, for example, a public address or speaker system?