Classroom acoustics a factor in creating accessible learning environments

Jul 27, 2018

Schools across the country are making their classrooms more inclusive to people with disabilities by including things like appropriate desks and interpreters, but how a classroom sounds can have a big effect on who can learn in it.

Edward Steinfeld is a professor of architecture and Director for the Center of Inclusive Design and Environmental Access at the University at Buffalo.

Often, he works with colleges, which are required by law to accommodate students with disabilities. But beyond specifications like wider doorways and seperate testing rooms, he says there are elements of a classroom that are not addressed by ADA standards but can make the world of a difference to students.

"For example," Steinfeld says, "acoustics are really important for people who have difficulty concentrating and people who are on the autistic spectrum.”

Many of the self-declared students with disabilities on campus have learning disabilities, and the big, booming, echoing lecture hall can be distracting and disruptive.

It’s an easy enough fix, Steinfeld says, with a few building modifications, and if professors use microphones and captioning. But colleges have to committ themselves to doing more than the law requires to create an accessible environment for everyone.

“This is what’s called Universal design. It goes beyond disability codes but it also embraces other issues that are often neglected. The human element of design.”