RESNA Annual Conference - 2019

Evaluating The Need For Validation Of Accesstools For Deaf Individuals: A Qualitative Study

Anna Y. McCartney, Roger O. Smith

University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee, R2D2 Center


Individuals with hearing disabilities often inhabit different sensory worlds than hearing individuals. When discussing accessibility and universal design people who are Deaf, deaf, and hard of hearing are placed in the same category of deaf*. The National Deaf Center is now using the term deaf in an all-inclusive manner, to include people who identify as Culturally Deaf, deafblind, deafdisabled, hard of hearing, late-deafened, and hearing impaired due to the fluidity of identity [1]. However, due to individual auditory and visual needs, it is suggested to separate each into their own subcategory. In 2010, the Department of Justice revised the regulations for Title II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). These new standards, known as “2010 Standards,” set the minimum requirements for both scoping and technical standards for newly designed and altered public buildings to be accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities [2]. The minimum requirement often focuses on audio amplification systems and providing hearing aid compatible systems. It is the design of the building and environment that often inhibit the sensory experience of individuals.

AccessTools is a iOS application, developed through the Access Ratings for Building Project (AR-B), that allows trained raters to evaluate the accessibility of a building [3].

One of the primary concerns when discussing Universal Design and accessibility is the focus on mobility disorders, and vision impairments. It is the aim of this paper to shift the focus to include hearing disabilities and validate the need to explore the content of AccessTools



In this qualitative study, we explore the need to validate AccessTools for the deaf populations. A qualitative method was chosen for this research due to the goal of understanding people’s beliefs, experiences, and interactions [7]. In order to determine the need of addressing the content of AccessTool, an exploratory approach was needed to understand the perspective from deaf individuals. We first searched the current literature that explores building design, and the architecture with deaf accessibility in mind. Next, a structured interview/ discussion is performed with two expert participants to analyze the taxonomy of AccessTools, and provide suggestions on how to expand the criteria. .


Structured Interview/ discussion

Recruitment of participants was performed through convenience sampling at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee Accessibility Resource Center. Two participants were recruited for this study, one participant a deaf and hard of hearing specialist at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee. One identified themselves as deaf, and one hard of hearing, both are fluent in American Sign Language.

Data Collection

Literature Review

To begin this research, a detailed literature search was performed searching various academic journals and databases, through the UW-Milwaukee Library System including Google Scholar, PubMed, PsychInfo, Sociological Abstracts, American Society of Aging, Audiology Holding, Hearing Health Foundation and CINAHL. The criteria of the articles had to be peer-reviewed and published between 2000-2019. Large number of words were used to search articles, including these keywords in the domains of, “Environmental Design,” “Architectural accessibility AND hearing,” “Community Participation AND barriers,” “Deaf Design.”

Structured Interview/ discussion

To perform the structured interview, participants scheduled an hour and a half face to face interview. During the interview, the research and goals were presented to the participants. Once both understood and agreed to participate, background information was taken from both participants. Participants were then provided with an electronic copy of the unpublished taxonomy of AccessTools, and asked to review each question and criteria listed. Comments that were made were highlighted and noted on a separate word document.


Literature Review

All articles were analyzed by researcher for content that related to the study.

Structured Interview/discussion

Participants analyzed the taxonomy data, noted missing content. The final analysis was performed by student reviewing the results of the interview, and summarizing the data. 


Literature Review

Our literature search found a gap in the scholarship, and new evidence is needed. Several articles were found using the criteria’s and terms, however only a few of them were relevant to addressing building design with deaf individuals in mind.  The newest publication was a thesis Deaf- First Architect published in 2017 [4]. This article focused on schools for the deaf, and how the building impacted the student’s experience. An article published in the AI Journal of Technology, “Research on Barriers in Architecture for Hearing Impaired Person” [5] but was able to be roughly translated to English, discussing barriers deaf people in Japan experience with buildings, and public transportation. Several other articles were found, see Table 1 for example of search results. Several articles were found, however were unable to be used due to non-relevant content. 

Structured Interview/discussion

AccessTools has many considerations for mobility disabilities but lacked information on visual cues with hearing deficits in mind. About 20 structures were identified for the need to expand the content, with about several suggested areas to address. See Table 2 for a summarized result of findings. Some main points suggested includes, flooring need to be assessed for acoustic compatibility including carpeting to reduce reverberation and help reduce glare. Carpeting should also be considered to follow ADA standards and have a height less than ½” to ensure accessibility for wheelchair users [6]. Doorways with automatic swing doors should either include a window, or visual light warning cue for doors opening, similar to and provide contrasting colors for deaf-blind and individuals with usher syndrome. Public restroom should have lights attached to their emergency alarms, and stall door needs to provide enough space to view occupancy of facilities, but also provide privacy. Hallways and routes should provide contrasting colors for people communicating with sign language to see the other person, as well as wide enough for two people to walk side by side. If stairwell are presents, there should be enough visual cues to avoid running into other people.

Table 1. Useful Articles

Articles Related to Architecture and deaf individuals



Search Term

Number of Articles

Number of useful articles


Environmental Design AND "deaf"OR "hard of hearing"



Architecture AND deaf* OR "hard of hearing"



Architectural Accessibility AND deaf* OR "hard of hearing"



Architectural Accessibility AND hearing




This study aimed to search the literature and analyze the taxonomy of AccessTools to support the need for further content validation for deaf populations. There are several limitations to this study. First, there was a small sample size for the population. Further research will need to increase the sample size, and have a wider represented population. Ideally individuals who identify as hard of hearing, deaf-blind, and parents of children who are deaf should be represented. This study does present some bias through focusing on only a certain participant and data collected comes from a perspective that is searching for the absence of proper representation. The data analysis of this research was conducted by an expert, who was a member of several committees and continues to participate, advocating for accessibility of deaf* individuals. This individuals experience is unique and provides only one perspective to this experience. However, if two participants have shared similar experiences, it could be assumed there are more facing the same issues. This study only focused on the unpublished taxonomy of AccessTools, however this should be looked at again once it is live on the app. Due to only two individuals looking at the taxonomy, future research should explore more focus groups of experts reviewing the taxonomy and making suggestions.  


By focusing to increase the inclusion of the deaf population, we have opened the conversation to advocate for more consideration in the taxonomy of AccessTools. The results from our literature review was expected, since deaf is typically seen as a less visible disability. The results from our structured interview provided new insights and perspective needed to be taken when looking at the content of AccessTools. Further research will have to focus on what types of questions trained raters should be looking for increasing accessibility for deaf individuals.

Table 2. Structured interview findings

Results from Structured Interview/discussion


Areas to Address 



Include carpeting 

Reduction of reverberation 

Reduce glare on floors 

Ensure visibility for signing communication 


Visual alert system for swing doors 

If door does not have window, need to ensure proper sight. 


Ability to see if someone is walking through 

Contrasting color from wall 

Important for deaf-blind users, and individuals with usher syndrome 


Alternative for intercom access 

Provides a different communication method. 


Width of hallway should be wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side 

Allows sign language users to communicate safely. 


Distinct indication of which elevator will be opened (a bright arrow indicating up or down above elevator) 

Allows ease of anxiety for missing an elevator of a dinging cue. 

Ensure emergency alarms have lights 

Visual cues if activated 

Public restrooms 

Ability to see feet under stall 

Provide an opportunity to respond and check occupancy. 

Auditorium/Lecture seating 

Interpreter seating 

sight line of individual should also include the ability to see the interpreter and front  



Ensure visibility for approaching individuals. 


Darker-colored walls 

To ensure visibility when signing 

Open spaces 

to allow as much visual as possible 

Closed spaces 

To allow blocking of sounds for hard of hearing individuals. 


[1] About us. (2014). Retrieved from

[2] 2010 ADA standards for accessible design (2010). . Washington, D.C.: Dept. of Justice. Retrieved from

[3] Williams, D., Johnson, N., Bangole, O. C., Hasan, M. K., Tomashek, D., Ahamed, S. I., & Smith, R. O. (2015). (2015). Access tools: Developing A usable smartphone-based tool for determining building accessibility. Paper presented at the RESNA Annual Conference,

[4] Hauan, T. (2017). In Peña R., Mohler R.(Eds.), Deaf-first architectual an educational design framework for

deaf and hard of hearingProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

[5] 橋本, 彼, 野村, 歡, 八藤後, 猛, 齋藤, 芽 衣[Research on barriers in architecture for hearing impaired person],

Hahimoto, H. Nomura, K., Yatogo, T, Saitoh, M. (2006). 聴覚障害者の建築物における障壁に関する研究(築計画). AIJ Journal of Technology and Design, 12(24), 339-344. doi:10.3130/aijt.12.339

[6] U.S. Access Boards. (2014). Floor and ground surfaces

[7] Pathak, V., Jena, B., & Kalra, S. (2013). Qualitative research. Perspectives in Clinical Research, 4(3),


ARB acknowledgment:

The work of the Access Rating for Buildings project was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research, NIDILRR grant number (NIDIRR) H133G100211. NIDILRR is a Center within the Administration for Community Living (ACL), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The contents of this work do not necessarily represent the policy of NIDILRR, ACL, HHS, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.