Create accessible spaces in the workplace with acoustic treatments

Accessibility in the workplace is often overlooked and rarely seen as an integral part of the design process. As a result, up to one in four New Zealanders are excluded from participating or even accessing these spaces; often, when given a seat at the table, they have to fight against the environment just to contribute to the conversation.

As the sole purpose of the Global Center of Possibles is to support and educate people with access needs, it is crucial that the design of their space reflects this purpose. Following the installation of the Custom Acoustic Mural and Cascade Hanging Screens in the Global Center of Possibility, Autex Acoustics sat down with Director of Possibilities, Minnie Baragwanath, to talk about her plans for the center. Minnie explains why acoustic treatment is so important for accessible spaces and how her creative vision came to life with Etch, Quietspace Panel and Vertiface.

“Typically the accessibility team is put in a seedy back room, and that reinforces all these negative things that accessibility isn’t valued, we shouldn’t have a nice space,” Minnie says. “I’ve always made sure that our organization has great premises because I think that’s part of branding, of reframing disability as possibility, of how we create space and how we present ourselves.”

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for accessibility in the workplace, as each person’s needs are different. “I’m legally blind,” says Minnie, “so I rely heavily on sound quality. If you can’t see, you rely on pickup [what’s going on] Listening. If you’re hard of hearing, you don’t want any other noise to bother you. Some people identify as neurodiverse, and a hyper-stimulating environment, whether light or sound, can be very disruptive to people’s ability to function well,” notes Minnie.

“It’s not just about the program, the space should help this diverse group of people thrive, not struggle.” Minnie speaks of “acoustic accessibility”; she explains that since her primary source of information is sound, any sound interference – such as reverberation, excessive noise, or echo – makes it quite difficult to attend meetings or perform daily tasks.

Although the space is bright and open, the concrete floors, parallel walls, and large windows do little to limit reverberation and echo. In order to create an environment that supports and allows people with different access needs to thrive, the acoustics must be right.

Minnie and her designer Dave Quinlan collaborated with Autex Acoustics to design an acoustic mural comprised of 25mm Etch-covered Quietspace panels, inlaid with 50mm Quietspace panel shapes and incorporating the brand’s colors and mission statement Global Center of Possibility.

Taking pride of place on the wall, the mission statement reads: “Leadership, design and innovation of pioneering possibilities for Aotearoa and the world”, with a Braille translation below. The panels are directly attached to the two parallel walls, with the main six-panel feature applied opposite the interior windows. Along with the Quietspace panel mural, the space also features custom-cut Senado Cascade screens with the Global Center of Possibility halftone logo. The screens were used as subtle space dividers, strategically placed to provide a touch of privacy and separate the meeting space from the targeted workspace at the rear.

Asked about the space before the treatment, Minnie explains that the high reverberation time – 2.75 seconds – made the job difficult: “Before we installed the panels, the space, it’s a beautiful space but it’s is like a concrete floor, concrete walls, really high ceiling, it was so “live” If we had any Zoom calls, or whatever, you could hear this real reverberation that made it very hard to s ‘hear.

After the panels were installed, the space was transformed, with a recalculation of the reverberation time of 0.76 seconds. “As soon as I walked in here when the signs were up it was just amazing. It was like there was a softening of the acoustic environment, it was kind of like stepping into this beautiful, enveloping acoustic space,” says Minnie.

“When the entrepreneurs from our program met in this space a few weeks ago, they were absolutely amazed at the difference. To have 14 or 15 of us working here, we could all hear each other much more clearly than It’s absolutely tangible the difference the panels have made.

Abdul J. Gaspar