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Classroom Learning Environment: Better Acoustics Improves Performance

Rockville, MD – August 11, 2010 - The U.S. Access Board voted recently to develop regulations pertaining to classroom acoustics, a decision that is expected to create a more acoustically safe environment for school children and teachers. An independent federal agency, the Board is concerned with promoting accessibility for people with disabilities.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) praised the decision as an important step toward removing an “unseen barrier” to academic performance, according to ASHA President Tommie L. Robinson Jr., PhD, CCC-SLP.

Poor acoustics in the classroom can interfere with a student’s academic performance by hindering concentration and attention, reading, and spelling, as well as understanding speech, according to experts like ASHA educational audiologist Tori Gustafson, who recently spoke to the International Code Council (ICC) on the need for more acoustically safe classrooms.

“We’re pleased classroom acoustics is beginning to receive the attention it deserves,” Dr. Robinson says. “Noise and acoustics affects all individuals in a school—administrators, teachers, and both hearing and hearing impaired children. Just because classroom acoustics can’t be seen doesn’t mean it should be ignored or overlooked. Many physical barriers to education have been addressed by regulations and adding things such as ramps, elevators, and Braille signs.”

ASHA has been advocating for decades at the local, state, federal, and international levels for standards that call for low reverberation rates and ambient noise levels in classrooms. Advocacy has included sponsoring a briefing on Capitol Hill for congressional staff, including provisions on reducing exposure to noise in classrooms in federal school construction legislation, drafting amendments to school construction legislation that addressed “floors and ceilings” and noise, coordinating the additional testimony of members at the ICC hearings on a classroom acoustics building code, writing amendments to school construction legislation that addressed “floors and ceilings” and noise, developing Facebook groups, assisting hundreds of members in sending messages to the Board asking it to begin the rulemaking process, and presenting at the National Hearing Conservation Association’s and ASHA School’s Conference.

With this announcement the Board will begin the process of developing rules and regulations based on the American National Standards Institute/Acoustical Society of America’s Standard S.12.60-2010. Once this rulemaking process is completed, the ANSI/ASA standard would apply to classrooms that are newly constructed or significantly renovated throughout the country. The Board has announced that it “will gather information on cost impacts in preparation for a proposed rule that will be made available for public comment.” To learn more, visit www.access-board.gov/acoustic/index.htm.

ASHA plans to continue its advocacy, building on the momentum triggered by the U.S. Access Board decision. ASHA also plans to engage its members, parents, and other organizations until these regulations are implemented nationwide.

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