All together now: Enabling inclusion in the AV industry

The AV industry must accommodate for individuals from all backgrounds, so how can we support people with disabilities and the neurodiverse in commercial spaces? Read on to discover how AV integrators and manufacturers are enabling inclusion at every level.

Anders Jørgensen - Stouenborg

We always look at laws [related to inclusion] when we operate and install systems, both as an integration company and when we’re doing consultancy work. We bear this in mind with everything that we do.

When this process goes wrong, we’ve seen spaces rebuilt for a tremendous amount of money to comply [with inclusion requirements]. In Denmark, there is a consultancy business focused on equal treatment, they go through the building with us and ask us if we have considered cable placement, how we would operate microphones if we were blind/deaf and pose lots of questions to the end user. We are now building a new auditorium, and we started with asking where would people with disabilities be seated? How would a lecturer with a hearing impairment operate the system? What kind of infrastructure do we need to cater to hearing problems? It’s so incorporated in everything we do.

Inclusive design really benefits everyone; with the GUIs we create, bearing the needs of everybody in mind creates more intuitive interfaces that are much more accessible for everybody. With the projects we are working on, we’re really looking into these aspects and it forms part of the process from the starting point. When we start a project, we ask the client to specify what they want to do.

Manufacturers are not offering enough [to support the inclusive needs of end users.] Everything that we do is something that we either have to find workarounds for with products, or something that we invest ourselves.

Hanieh Motamedian - Pure AV

In my experience of promoting better sound in spaces over the past 10 years, I have definitely noticed a difference in the number of enquiries relating to sound masking, creating a more welcoming environment that promotes productivity. People are interested in it, but the uptake of the system is lagging behind.

As we talk more and more about neurodiversity, 85% of the UK population are considered neurotypical, but there is a variation even within that 85% and neurodiversity should capture all of that. A lot of projects are driven by cost, but we have a responsibility to mention these things. It may not be something that we legislate for at the current time, but it’s definitely something that we can lead on and invite people to consider.

Unlike someone sitting in a wheelchair, a neurodiverse condition isn’t visible, so are you excluding people if you walk into an office that includes a huge, cavernous atrium to get to where you are going? That is quite debilitating for some people, so you could be losing out on talent because they aren’t welcomed from the outset.

Choice is the cornerstone of inclusivity. Providing different spaces and technologies for different areas is important, and you can also use smart building technology to support that by incorporating abilities for users to change the colour temperature in a space, implement quiet zones etc. Some people prefer refuge where they can prospect instead of busy, crowded spaces, so technology can support that by putting the right solutions in the right places, allowing the users to choose. You can’t design for one particular group at a time, because you might disadvantage another group, so you have to create different spaces for different requirements.

Did you know? The Business Disability Forum reported that 78% of employees with disabilities in the UK had to initiate the process of disability-related adjustments, rather than their employer. – The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey 2023

Kieran Phillips – CJP 

Extending opportunities in the industry to a diverse range of backgrounds is a key goal of ours. Collaborating with a virtual production studio is  currently being setup within our HQ near Ross-on-Wye [UK] which will provide their students with practical  experience in working with  cutting-edge technology.

Our partnership began in 2023 during the European Blind Football League, which they were hosting, when we started producing their live matches. This has evolved into a more collaborative relationship. Observing their  accomplishments, we’ve been particularly impressed with one student who was previously  unaware of opportunities in the broadcast/AV sector.

We collaborate with partners focused on inclusion, especially in the realms of broadcast and film technology. Designing accessible solutions in universities and colleges is a responsibility we take  seriously.

Jon Alessi – Ricoh Europe 

There is a  misconception from the  manufacturers saying that brighter and  bigger is better, that’s not actually the case. What people aren’t doing is calculating the  ambient light ranges in the room.

If you go for a high brightness screen, some people are going to come out with eyesight problems, they’re not calculating what that  lumen should be in that workspace. We’re starting to see a bit more  coming out from AVIXA standards, trying to educate the market.

The problem starts with a lot of the architecture and interior design of the building and sometimes, the customer themselves, because a lot of the time, [inclusivity] becomes a statistic on paper that can be ticked to meet regulations.

This is often squeezed in on a small budget by including an induction loop, dropping the height of touch panels and light switches, this doesn’t meet everybody’s needs. I think that we have a right to consult when we are brought in as part of our tender processes, to educate on the technologies that are there to enhance inclusivity, but there’s only so much we can do when a problem is caused by the architecture and interior design.

The key thing is that we need to consult with the building’s users, not just the people that are making decisions. Be inclusive, sit with them to understand their painpoints and their use-case scenarios and the challenges that they are having, then bring that back to the design because those people will vote with their feet. Consult with the people that it matters to. We can be the custodians and champions of pushing inclusivity into designs.

Alexander Knittler – MobileConnect, Sennheiser 

We are seeing an increase in demand for inclusive technology. As a result, we have been focusing on MobileConnect, which offers live audio streaming over WiFi. Typically, venues have telecoil systems installed or old Infrared systems which require devices to be handed out to the users, or if a telecoil system is present, users must sit in the front row where these systems are installed.

With MobileConnect, we are bringing the BYOD approach. Users simply need to install the  application on their iOS or Android device and connect one of our hardware components, that picks up the audio and transfers it to a network stream. This then needs to be integrated into your network infrastructure, making it accessible in your auditorium or meeting room. We facilitate the audio streaming process, and for visually impaired or blind individuals, we have a focus on making the application as user-friendly as possible by integrating screen reader support.

 The OS manufacturers have also picked up on automatic transcriptions, allowing deaf individuals to use speech-to-text transcriptions. The app itself features a very easy to use equaliser, which we developed in collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute, one of Europe's largest application-oriented research organisations with a strong footprint in technology for the hard of hearing. Through this partnership, we have enhanced the user’s listening experience significantly.

I think inclusion has often been neglected in the past. Hybrid working was a priority for many, both on the manufacturer side and also on the customer side, resulting in limited interest in installing assistive listening systems.

Did you know? The WHO estimates that 2.5 billion people could have disabling hearing loss by 2050. – World Report on Hearing, 2021

Ray Sappall – Media Powerhouse

AV integrators in the UK must be familiar with UK legislation related to disability rights, such as the Equality Act 2010, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Additionally, adhering to accessibility standards such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) ensures that digital content and interfaces are accessible to people with disabilities.

Conducting thorough user needs assessments is essential to understand the diverse requirements of individuals with disabilities. This involves engaging with end-users and stakeholders to identify their specific accessibility needs and preferences, including considerations for mobility,vision, hearing, and cognitive impairments.

Integrating inclusive design principles ensures that AV installations are usable by the widest possible range of individuals, regardless of their abilities.

Providing accessible controls and interfaces is also critical for ensuring that individuals with disabilities can effectively interact with AV systems. This may involve offering alternative control methods such as tactile controls, voice commands, or assistive technologies like switches or screen readers. Recognising that accessibility is an ongoing process, AV integrators should continuously seek feedback from users with disabilities and strive to improve the accessibility of their installations over time. This may involve incorporating new technologies, refining design practices, and staying updated on accessibility standards and best practices.

There is still room for improvement, and ongoing efforts are needed to ensure that technology solutions are truly inclusive and address the diverse needs of all users. This includes continued collaboration with disability advocacy groups, user feedback mechanisms, adherence to accessibility standards and guidelines, and ongoing research and innovation in the field of accessible technology.

Martin Clay – Pure AV 

As a company, we provide our customers with what they ask for. We can come up with plenty of good ideas, but it is very difficult to put time into things that are not being requested.

From a design perspective, there are induction loops, and we tick that box, height adjustable lecterns as well have been around for a long time, but just because a lectern can go up and down, doesn’t mean a person in a wheelchair can reach the control panel. What about visually impaired people? We often put HDMI or audio on cables, but if you are blind or visually impaired, you may need to get some indication from one of these panels.

It’s quite normal nowadays to place array microphones above an audience so that remote learners can hear questions from the audience. That also benefits the hard of hearing user, who under normal circumstances, wouldn’t have heard that question from the audience, they would have only heard the presenter.

 For a lot of these solutions, the manufacturers have all sorts of things in place, not necessarily to tackle any particular problem, but it’s our job as integrators to work out where we can use those features. I also think that AVIXA has a big part to play in providing a roadmap or set of guidelines.

It’s not difficult to come up with ideas and suggestions using the technology that’s out there, we just need to include it in our ideas. It’s not just covering off disabilities from an in-room experience perspective, but also people who support it – how are they going to cope with things? We have a responsibility and I think that we can do more to include this in our proposals.

Did you know? Around 1 in 5 people may identify as having one or more neurodivergent identities. – Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2024

Jenn Steinhardt – AVIXA  

The audiovisual industry could be doing more to meet the needs of people with disabilities, whether it’s physical or invisible. Progress has been slow, but I’ve been incredibly grateful to see an overwhelming support and interest in learning more in how they can support people with neurodiverse brains. The feedback I often hear is many people in the community want to do more but need guidance on how to hire, support and design for neurodiverse individuals.

In construction, and sometimes budgeting, AV is last to come in so I'm not incredibly surprised to see the AV industry behind. The discussion around neurodiversity really picked up in the architecture community around 2019. In the past couple of years discussions on inclusive design have really skyrocketed.

The community is very divided on whether AVIXA is doing enough or the right thing, but everyone has a role to play (from manufacturers,integrators, consultants, tech managers, etc.).

What I’d really like to see R&D from manufacturers. Displays, microphones, speaker and control system manufacturers for example have the greatest opportunity to lead the way. Some of the biggest challenges autistic folks, such as myself, face is around audio, visual, tactile. Wayfinding, software, and artificial intelligence are opportunities for assisting with ADHD, learning disabilities, and Autism.

For designers, we’re in a tough space trying to figure out what the future of meetings should look like. Understanding that everyone (neurotypical or neurodivergent) communicates and learns differently. Awareness training can help us as a community through this time of innovation in the most inclusive way possible.

The right conversations are being had, we just need to keep it going. Awareness training, affinity groups, volunteering etc. are a few ways companies can get started. Industry published guidelines (created with research and in collaboration with the neurodiverse community) would go a very long way.

Main photo credit: pingebat/

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