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Would You Like Earplugs with that?

Media Release
15th September 2006

Deaf Awareness Week 18th – 24th September 2006
Would You Like Earplugs with that?

Restaurants have become noisier than ever and New Zealand studies into restaurant noise confirm they are consistently exceeding levels at which normal speech can be understood.

Hard surfaces such as concrete and glass feature in the trendiest contemporary eateries on floors, walls, ceilings – even furniture. Combine this with open kitchens and cool music to set the atmosphere, the clatter of dishes, hiss and grind of coffee machines and patrons raising their voices to be heard over the din and you have an environment which is a challenging and frustrating place to carry on a conversation, even if you have perfect hearing.

The National Foundation for the Deaf (NFD) is advocating the inclusion of noise ratings with restaurant reviews.

“Restaurants are engaged in a perpetual competition for good reviews,” said Marianne Schumacher, executive manager of the National Foundation for the Deaf. “Most reviews focus on the food and service, sometimes on the ambience but seldom are noise levels mentioned, yet research shows such information would be welcomed by the public.”

In one New Zealand study two of the five premises monitored had average noise levels of 81 decibels - the equivalent of standing kerbside on a very busy street. At one point noise in one restaurant reached 91 decibels – the equivalent of a loud factory – yet have you ever seen a waitress wearing earmuffs?

To put these levels into perspective, 85 decibels is the maximum noise level set by OSH for which employees may be exposed over an eight hour period. If the entire population were exposed to such levels for their entire working life, 20% of the population would suffer noticeable hearing loss.

Ms Schumacher said many people avoid social situations such as dining out because they have trouble hearing conversations with a lot of background noise going on around them.
“If these noise levels make it hard for people with full hearing to communicate, spare a thought for the one in ten New Zealanders with hearing loss. This is just one example of the social isolation that can be experienced by those who struggle to hear.”

During Deaf Awareness Week the National Foundation for the Deaf is encouraging members of the public to participate in a Café and Restaurant Acoustic Rating Index (CRAI) developed by the NZ Acoustical Society.

Anyone can rate a restaurant they visit by answering seven simple questions relating to how sound levels affected their dining experience. The data, once processed, leads to a star rating for each restaurant.

A one-star rating indicates lip-reading would be an advantage while a café or restaurant with a five-star rating is ‘the place to be and be heard’.

“This is not intended as a witch hunt; rather it is simply providing members of the public with information they can use to help them make an informed choice about where they choose to dine,” said Marianne Schumacher. “Eventually we’d like to see restaurant reviewers themselves embrace the concept and include noise ratings with their reviews so people can decide which restaurant is most suited to a romantic dinner for two, compared with a bustling night out with friends.”

People interested in participating in the Café and Restaurant Noise Rating Index should visit www.acoustics.ac.nz to download the rating sheet or email stuart[at]marshallday.co.nz.

To make an automatic $20 donation to the National Foundation for the Deaf phone 0900 66620.

Sources:
L. Hannah, 2004 ‘Sound and the Restaurant Environment’
L. H Christie & J.R.H Bell-Booth, 2004 ‘Acoustics in the Hospitality Industry: A Subjective and Objective Analysis’

ENDS

See...
CRAI Ratings (PDF)
CRAI Form (PDF)

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