Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is necessary for many who are deaf or have hearing loss to be able to navigate public environments, but even more so in long-term care facilities as this becomes their home. With the advances in modern technology, there are many products and methods that can be implemented to make the deaf and hard of hearing community feel comfortable in their home environment and make it useful for them.
Make these considerations when designing a communication-friendly environment:
- Echoes make it difficult for the hearing impaired to understand speech. Designers should be aware of reverberation time – the time required for reflected sound to become inaudible. Short reverberation times aid in speech intelligibility.
- Background noise created by heating and air conditioning units, or other machinery, can make it hard for the hearing impaired to understand speech. If noisy equipment cannot be placed away from conversation areas, make sure the walls surrounding it include sound-absorbent materials.
- High ceilings can amplify echoes. Dropped acoustical ceilings can help diminish noise.
- Hard surfaces including hardwood flooring, furniture, windows, and walls can contribute to reverberation and interfere with communication. Rooms should be designed to include sound-absorbing materials, where possible. Soft furnishings, drapery, and carpet are also helpful. If hardwood floors are chosen, an underlay can be installed below the flooring to help absorb sound. Acoustical treatments, such as panels and baffles, are available for walls and ceilings.
- Lighting should be placed so it does not hinder lip reading. For example, the light should fall on the face of the speaker, but not in the eyes of the hearing-impaired person.
- Sight lines are important to consider. The deaf need clear lines of sight to be able to lip read and read a sign language interpreter. Open spaces for areas like kitchens, living and dining rooms decrease isolation and allow for a clear view of all rooms, which can help facilitate listening and visual contact.
- Room proximity is important for good design. A poorly sound-proofed room that houses an air conditioning unit or washing machine that is adjacent to a living room can make communication difficult.
- Windows are more efficient at reducing street traffic and aircraft noise if they are double-paned and well-insulated. The use of windows and glass doors not only add light to a room, but also allow hearing impaired or deaf residents to see what is going on outside and when visitors are arriving. Sheer draperies can be added to further help reduce the resonance effect, echo, and noise.
If you are not able to implement the above considerations into your facility, there are some changes you can make to existing spaces that can improve communication and increase the comfort of a living environment for a resident that is deaf or hard of hearing.
- Furniture should be placed so that deaf and hearing impaired residents can see what is approaching them. Mirrors can be helpful so that they can see what is going on behind them or if their back is to a door. The way furniture is configured is also important. For example, a round dining table is better than a long rectangular one as it allows for a better visual connection between people, thus helping with the conversation for the hearing impaired. Seating should be arranged so that people face each other. If chairs are angled in the same direction, completely turn them so that they face each other. Moveable furniture allows for groups to arrange it for optimal communication.
- Security alert measures are available with visual and tactile alerts from smoke detectors, door bells, phones and burglar alarms. Many devices are available to aid residents who are deaf or hearing impaired.
- Products can be added to your facility to assist residents and aid in quality of life such as an amplified phone or tv listening system, a visual alert system, and a combination alarm clock.