Compliance with the DDA includes provision for those with hearing loss

Oct 11, 2010

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), which came into force in the UK in October 2004 and has been law across the European Union since the start of this year, makes it unlawful for building managers to treat disabled people less favourably than others for reasons of their disability. From a facilities management point of view, while it is often easy to understand the barriers to accessing a service for those in wheelchairs, hearing disability is generally a hidden problem, covering many different forms – the most common of which can be assisted by the use of hearing aids.

However, hearing aids in themselves are not a total solution to the problem. Whereas a person with normal hearing can enjoy a reasonable level of intelligibility in the presence of very loud background noise (music, traffic noise and so on), a person with hearing loss needs a much greater distinction between the actual sound that creates the intelligibility and the interfering background noise.

An attractive answer to this problem is the induction loop – in its most basic form, a loop of wire around the edge of an area connected to a special amplifier. The input of the amplifier is connected to the sound source which the hearing-impaired users of the area need to hear more clearly. The amplifier drives an audio current through the loop. This current generates a magnetic field in the area enclosed by the wire that a suitably fitted hearing aid can receive when it is switched to the T-coil mode.

In buildings, there are two distinct types of location where an increase in the intelligibility of audio is desired. The first comes under the heading of ‘transient use’ and includes such spaces as ticket counters and reception desks – where members of the public spend relatively short periods of time. The second are so-called ‘extended time use’ spaces such as theatres, concert halls, cinemas and conference centres.

A spectacular example of the latter can be found at the Wiener Stadthalle complex (pictured above) in Vienna. In the brand-new concert venue, Hall F, opened earlier this year, rather than give the hearing-impaired their own induction loop-equipped area (which could be interpreted as discriminatory), all the 2,000-plus seats benefit from the technology.

Hall F’s induction loop system was designed by Alfred Sturma, whose company ACS-Akustik is the Austrian distributor for UK-based induction-loop manufacturer Ampetronic. Schurma’s loops – there are ten in all to cover the whole hall – are made from flat copper tape installed under the auditorium’s floor covering. Special care has been taken to compensate for the presence of metal in the building’s infrastructure (which can affect the efficiency of the loops), while the system has been configured so that the amplified signal is at its strongest when members of the audience are seated. The loops are powered by Ampetronic amplifiers located in a remote rack room (pictured left) – these receive their signal directly from Hall F’s main sound system.

Sturma’s 25-plus years of experience in audio engineering makes him well-qualified to design his own systems, but Ampetronic is well aware that not every architect, specifier or contractor will be as confident. This is why the company offers a full support service embracing project quotation, design, consultancy, troubleshooting and a full five-year warranty.

In the case of Vienna’s newest auditorium, the end result is that hearing-impaired visitors are happy no matter where they sit, while the Stadthalle project team can rest easy, knowing that, at least with respect to the requirements of the hearing-impaired, they have complied fully with Europe’s new law.

Dan Goldstein is editor of WNIB’s sister publication Installation Europe

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