Accessibility in workplaces is often overlooked, and rarely considered an integral part of the design process. Consequently, as many as one in four New Zealanders is excluded from participating or even entering these spaces; often, when they do have a seat at the table, they have to fight the environment just to contribute to the conversation.
As the Global Centre of Possibility’s sole purpose is supporting and training people with access needs, it is crucial that the design of their space reflects this objective. Following the installation of the custom acoustic mural and Cascade hanging screens in the Global Centre of Possibility, Autex Acoustics sat down with Chief Possibility Officer, Minnie Baragwanath to talk about her plans for the centre. Minnie explains why acoustic treatment is so important for accessible spaces, and how her creative vision was brought to life using Etch, Quietspace Panel and Vertiface.
“Typically the accessibility team gets put in a dingy back room, and it reinforces all those negative things that accessibility isn’t valued, we shouldn’t have a nice space,” Minnie explains. “I have always ensured that our organisation has really nice premises because I think it’s part of the brand, part of the reframing out of disability into possibility, how we create a space and how we show up.”
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for accessibility in the workplace as every person’s needs are different. “I’m legally blind,” Minnie says, “so I rely heavily on sound quality. If you can’t see, you’re relying on picking up [what’s going on] by listening. If you’re hearing impaired you don’t want any other noise getting in the way. Some people identify as neurodiverse, and a hyper stimulating environment, whether it’s light or sound, can be really disruptive for people’s ability to function well,” Minnie notes.
“It’s not just about the program, the space needs to support this diverse group of people to flourish, not struggle.” Minnie refers to it as ‘acoustic accessibility’; she explains that as her primary source of information is sound, any sonic interference – such as reverberation, excessive noise, or echo – makes participating in meetings, or doing day to day tasks, quite difficult.
While the space is bright and open, the concrete floors, parallel walls, and big windows do little to curb reverberation and echo. In order to create an environment that supports and enables people with different access needs to flourish, the acoustics need to be right.
Minnie and her designer Dave Quinlan collaborated with Autex Acoustics to design an acoustic mural made from 25mm Quietspace panels overlaid with Etch, inlaid with 50mm Quietspace panel shapes, and incorporating the Global Centre of Possibility’s brand colours and mission statement.
Taking pride of place on the wall, the mission statement reads: ‘Pioneering Possibility leadership, design and innovation for Aotearoa and the world’, with a translation in Braille below. The panels are direct fixed to the two parallel walls, with the main six-panel feature applied opposite the interior windows. Alongside the Quietspace panel mural, the space also features Cascade screens in Senado custom cut with the Global Centre of Possibility’s halftone logo. The screens have been used as subtle spatial dividers, placed strategically to offer a touch of privacy and separate the meeting space from the focused workspace out in the back.
When asked about the space before treatment, Minnie explains that the high reverb time – 2.75 seconds – made work difficult: “Before we had the panels installed, the space, it’s a gorgeous space but it’s like concrete floor, concrete walls, really high ceiling, it was just so ‘live’. If we were having Zoom calls, or whatever it was, you could hear this real reverberation that made it very difficult to hear each other.”
After the panels were installed, the space was transformed, with a new reverb time calculation of 0.76 seconds. “As soon as I walked in here when the panels were up it was just extraordinary. It felt like there was this softening of the acoustic environment, it was sort of like walking into this gorgeous enveloping acoustic space,” Minnie says.
“When the entrepreneurs from our program met in this space a couple of weeks ago they were absolutely astounded at the difference. To have 14 or 15 of us all busily working in here, we could all hear ourselves so much more clearly than we had been able to previously. It’s absolutely tangible the difference that the panels have made.”