>>Accessible sound:<< Greater independence in public life for people with hearing disabilities.

The percentage of people with impaired hearing is on the increase.

The demographic shift in age has had a decided impact on this development. Hearing loss – even if only slight – can now be detected in every fourth 50- to 59-year-old. Among people over 70, the number who are hard of hearing is already considerably higher at more than fifty percent – with significantly greater hearing loss. The percentage of people in these age groups is also expected to increase in the future.

Right to participation in cultural life

This so-called »50plus Generation« is very active in shaping public life. They represent a group with considerable purchasing power, take advantage of a comprehensive range of cultural offers and use all contemporary media. And they also demand – quite justifiably – unlimited access to information and communication – which constitutes acoustically accessible infrastructures in the broadest sense.

The accessible design of public and private infrastructures

The German law for the equality of disabled persons (BGG) defines accessibility as follows: »Buildings and other facilities, means of transport, technical apparatus, systems for information processing, acoustic and visual sources of information and communication facilities as well as all other areas of life are accessible when they are useable by handicapped people in a general way, without any particular difficulty and without necessitating the help of third parties.«

Needless to say, the term accessibility also includes the access of the hearing impaired to acoustic information – starting with such elementary sounds as alarms and emergency signals to educational information and communications and right on up to acoustic participation in cultural and sporting events.

Even contemporary hearing aids are not able to guarantee good hearing and clear understanding in every situation. In noisy environments or in rooms with extreme resonance or echoes, for example, these systems often quickly reach their limits. That’s why audio transmission systems that effectively include or supplement hearing aids are now often used, particularly in places where interruption-free communication is important.

These systems feed the sound either directly into a hearing aid or a CI system or make it available to the user via special receivers.

National laws on equality and their implementation

The application of equality guidelines (anti-discrimination laws) is as diverse as the cultural attributes of the individual European states. While far-reaching measures en­abling equal treatment are already common in France, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Scandinavian countries, for example, the provision of accessible infrastructures is lagging behind in other countries – as in Germany.

The equal treatment of the disadvantaged and minorities has, however, now become a central concern of the European Union (EU Basic Treaty). In this respect, the consistent implementation of accessible infrastructures – particularly in government offices, but also in restaurants, at event venues and in public transportation systems – will only be a question of time for all EU nations.

Europe’s self-image

The EU appeals to all its member states to not discriminate against anyone because of his/her personal situation. Article 26 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, for example, reads: »The Union recognises and respects the right of persons with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence, social and occupational integration and participation in the life of the community.«