Asumag 2653 Headshot Paul Erickson

Facility Planning: Common Understanding

Sept. 1, 2016
School design considerations for deaf and hearing-impaired learners.

To accommodate the hearing sensitivities of young learners and enhance mainstreaming, it makes sense to consider designs that address the needs of deaf and hearing-impaired students. Interpersonal connection is the key strategy for designing spaces for these students. Here are some design considerations that can be integrated into learning environments:  

Overall design: Provide views to other areas of the school to promote visual delight and connectivity. Consider designs with exterior courtyards and interior teaming areas; from any part of a school’s interior it should be possible to see across to other areas. Consider open-office designs surrounding an atrium or a teaming area where a multipurpose area, cafeteria or library is situated. 

Learning space seating: Seating areas with corners are cumbersome, and linear seating limits visual access. For ease of visual connectivity, use a circular seating layout so that students may see and communicate with one another. 

Doors and glazing: Provide sidelights and large window lights in doors; a window slit provides connectivity and is safer than a solid door. Door openings must not obstruct movement in corridors. Interior windows bring daylight to the center of the building. Appropriately placed skylights help guide movement through the building.

Furniture: Provide chairs with casters and armrests for movement, comfort and convenience. Instead of traditional desks, use common tables to enhance group learning. Consider tables for four to six people or individual flat tables on casters that can be reconfigured easily. 

Acoustics: Control ambient background noise and reverberation time (RT) so that students with hearing aids, auditory-training equipment, or cochlear implants may hear speech more clearly. Take into account the effect of other noise sources (e.g., HVAC equipment, light ballasts, closing doors, sound transfer at walls, and outdoor sounds).

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association states that learning spaces should have ambient noise levels no greater than 30 dBA and RT no more than 0.4 seconds. Situate learning spaces away from busy streets, playgrounds and machines. Add dampers on ventilation louvers and split louvers to reduce air noise. Mount compressors on isolation pads to diminish sound or vibration transfer to learning spaces. Consider carpet-tiled floors, acoustic ceiling-tile systems, and sound gaskets at doorjambs. Hard surface walls should be softened with tackboard and acoustic wall panels.

Consider voice amplification systems to improve a teacher’s voice clarity. Include anti-static design specifications for children with cochlear implants. Computer labs should have anti-static/glare protection for monitors. Avoid plastic playground equipment, plastic furniture, and nylon carpet because of potential damage to speech processors from electrostatic discharge. 

Color: Because of the importance of sensory clues, the visual environment should be warm, varied, cheerful and restful to the eyes. Colors should provide contrast to facilitate lip-reading and comprehending sign language. Provide colors as orientation markers.

Lighting: Minimizing glare is vital for students who need to fully use their sight. Harsh lighting and abrupt transitions from light to dark may make signing and lip-reading more difficult. Use soft illumination and north-facing natural lighting if possible. Light fixtures should have direct/indirect capability for minimizing glare. Provide adjustable lighting through three-level multiple-switching or dimming devices.

Provide strobe and sound emergency fire alarms at all spaces, and install visual light indicators in conjunction with class bells in all rooms.

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