Aural diversity is a term used to describe the different ways in which people experience sound. Some people have sensory sensitivities, for example people with autism may be unable to filter background noise, or may find loud sounds confusing or threatening. On the other hand, under-sensitivity might mean that certain sounds cannot be heard, or a person may feel more comfortable in busy, noisy places.
Those affected by hearing or sight loss, or those with neurological conditions such as Tourette's syndrome, painful hearing disorders like Hyperacusis, or even conditions that are hard to classify such as Misophonia (thought to be a form of acute sound-emotion synaesthesia), often find that certain environments can be socially inclusive or exclusive, accessible or inaccessible.
The paradigm of aural diversity is new and therefore research into how the use or management of sounds can enable an environment to be more socially inclusive is severely lacking. Legislation on accessibility only very narrowly represents the aurally diverse community – sonic inclusion is not just a case of whether or not someone can hear something.
Will Renel’s research into sonic inclusion in creative urban environments is being carried out in partnership with Battersea Arts Centre, Shakespeare’s Globe and Touretteshero, an organisation that celebrates and shares the experience of Tourette's syndrome.
Asking key questions such as ‘How can a creative urban environment, such as an arts centre or theatre, use sound to make their venue more socially inclusive of deaf and disabled people?' Renel’s research engages individuals and communities with lived experience of sonic exclusion as collaborators.
Although this is a practice-based PhD, Renel’s research also draws on historical perspectives of soundscape studies, aural architecture and sonic ethnography, which will help to guide the project towards a new framework for ‘sonically inclusive design’.
By focusing on and celebrating, rather than stigmatising the diversity of human hearing, and developing a hearing-centred approach to environmental interventions, it is hoped that the research conducted into this area will make a significant contribution to existing inclusive design research and practice.