Building Block One: The Built Environment

For a quick visual reference guide to this content,
check out the Classroom Accessibility Guide Infographic

The built environment of the classroom and school can have a significant impact on the overall education of students who are Deaf and hard of hearing. Providing built environment access for students who depend on their eyes involves both simple and complex planning strategies. For example, simple adjustments to lighting can increase clarity and decrease visual fatigue and the use of coverings to muffle the sound of chairs on tiled flooring can help create a quieter learning environment. Other examples include carpeting and tiled ceilings which can be used to minimize intrusive ambient noise, convex mirrors which can be placed strategically to increase visual access, and the inclusion of a visual announcement system that presents information in English/French print and ASL/LSQ which can compensate for a multitude of safety issues.

Increasing Accessibility to Education through the Built Environment

The following is a list of considerations for school design that, with the help of classroom teachers, can help ensure schools are barrier-free and able to provide accessible education to Deaf and hard of hearing students.

The school environment requires a visually and auditorily accessible design:

  • clear sight lines to all speakers/signers
    • visual access to signed-language
    • speech-reading, facial expressions, natural gestures used by students who use spoken language and signed language
  • computer room with students able to see the teacher
    • capacity for some computers not facing walls
  • spotlights for large areas
    • accessibility to the speaker, signer, and/or interpreter
  • lighting, Plexiglas barriers and countertop heights designed to:
    • provide access
  • natural lighting
    • consistent throughout the space (reduces glare)
    • no hotspots (overly bright areas)
    • comfortable face-to-face interaction in all spaces
  • blinds on windows (to reduce glare)
  • windows in doors
  • visually supported PA systems
    • capable of captioning
    • capable of providing ASL/LSQ versions
  • TTYs in key areas (e.g. main entrance)
  • public telephone with a volume control
  • convex mirrors in hallway intersections
  • permanent interactive white boards
  • quiet heating/ventilation systems
  • acoustic baffling
  • acoustic flooring
    • carpet
    • cork flooring (or sound absorbing floor materials on existing tiled flooring)
  • acoustic tiles (ceilings)
  • soundfield and other types of sound amplification systems

Keeping Students Safe In Their School Environment

Today’s climate has led to increased preparation and protocols for emergency situations. Schools are expected to have plans in place, know
that there are different emergency situations that call for different responses, and practice for these eventualities each semester. Professionals who understand the needs and abilities of students who are Deaf and hard of hearing can be instrumental in the hands-on preparation of students to ensure they are not at risk during emergency situations.

Very specific school announcements alert students to which protocol is to be followed. For example, they will receive an announcement for a “hold and secure” situation. At that time, window coverings are put into place, all cell phones and text technology is turned off, heating systems are turned off, students go to a designated “safe place” in the classroom/school or, in the case where students are out of the classroom, they will go to a pre-determined “safe place,” and then everyone waits for the police to give the sign that all is clear.

At these times, students who are Deaf and hard of hearing may not be accompanied by a teacher or anyone else who can communicate with them; therefore, they need to be well prepared for and understand all school protocols. They may also require more practice than hearing students because they may be isolated from access to the information other students are receiving and, therefore, be affected differently by the emergency situation.

To compensate for this eventuality and to lessen the potential risk to the student, it is suggested that:

  • they have access to any and all information concerning the emergency
  • they be fully informed of the emergency protocols to the satisfaction of someone who is fluent in ASL for signing students and someone knowledgeable about the language access needs of students who use spoken language prior to any incidents
  • they be emotionally prepared to wait, possibly in the dark, and trust the group they are with
  • those who explain the protocols to Deaf and hard of hearing students be able to judge if the students understand and are ready to cope with an emergency situation.

A “buddy system” may be used to complement the listed strategies.

Increasing Accessibility to a Safe Student Environment

Both technology and professionals that can enhance student safety include:

  • visual emergency alarm/notification systems
    • signal simultaneously with auditory alarms
    • in all classrooms, offices, hallways, washrooms, and stalls
    • strategically placed for optimum visibility (even from bathroom stalls)
    • colour-coded for different types of emergencies
      • to indicate or identify different types emergency situations
      • in every classroom and throughout the whole school
      • placed strategically throughout the school
        • ensure appropriate placement
        • within line of  sight
  • vibrating text messaging
    • all students receiving emergency information simultaneously
    • information in a form they understand
  • visual electronic displays for English print and ASL/LSQ
  • alarm systems in elevators
    • with visual indicator to call for help and receive confirmation that help is on the way
  • push button alarms in the stalls
    • to call for help
    • to receive confirmation that help is on the way
  • print versions of materials
    • at a comfortable literacy level for individual students
  • visual notification systems and emergency announcements, etc.
    • pre-arranged announcements
    • instant announcements
  • interactive white boards
    • patched into PA system
    • pre-arranged announcements
    • instant announcements
  • ASL/LSQ versions of materials
    • conveyed/explained by fluent ASL/LSQ signers
  • ASL/LSQ fluent interpreters/signers
    • with signing students throughout an emergency situation