Evaluating Impact of the Lighting and Acoustic Environments on The Learning Development of Children with Cognitive Disabilities in Special Education in UAE

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The British University in Dubai (BUiD)
Educational facilities are one of the most important establishments in society. Schools and learning institutions have the highest density of occupants, where children spend 25% of their day in classrooms indoors. For schools, a poor IEQ can easily interfere with total learning experience of students inside the facility, resulting in discomfort & disruption of the learning experience; poor classroom conditions reduce students’ performance by 30%. With the 2015 launch of the Dubai Inclusive Development Forum, aiming to make Dubai a disability-friendly city, this study aims to bring awareness to the importance of good indoor environmental quality (IEQ) for individuals who suffer from of disabilities, be it mental, physical, or emotional, highlighting the different types of limitations and restrictions that building management of special needs centers face in order to provide the optimum services to their students. Using qualitative and quantitative analysis, as well as the human factor of students and teachers/therapists alike, the study used the mixed method to backup and verify the findings. It’s been found that the human factor alone cannot be solely reliable as special needs individuals were found to adapt to the surrounding environment and/or might face difficulties in identifying the source of their discomfort. The study focuses on two factors of IEQ (light and sound) and their impact on the students/occupants’ behaviour s using spot measurements, as well as questionnaires and interviews, drawing comparisons and connection between the international standards and the existing conditions in the selected case studies in the UAE. This study looks into finding connection between objective and subjective assessment of environmental factor of lighting and acoustic characteristics in three types of special needs centers in three different building structures. The study focuses on highlighting the vulnerability the population of special needs towards lighting and acoustic environment in the special educational environment. The category of developmental disabilities was chosen as subjects of the study. A total of 44 pupils participated in the study (23 female, 21 male). The study evaluated two therapy rooms: 1) Speech and Language Therapy 2) Occupational therapy. Explanatory mixed method design tool was utilized. Subjective data was collected from student and therapists, while objective data was collected through spot measurement. The study was conducted between February and March of 2017. Findings of the study are: 1) The selected case studies for this research did not have the suitable/ appropriate indoor environment qualification for the users of the facility, compared to the international standards and guidelines for this type of disabilities. 2) The importance of providing an adaptable and flexible indoor environment to suit all categories of individuals with disabilities who attend the centers, due to their individualized requirement. 3) Special educational environments to provide a high quality indoor environment and physical environment considering the needs of students with developmental disabilities not only looking into the requirements for students with physical disabilities. The findings in this study bring an important contribution to the field of special education, specifically, and to the educational sector in general. It will help schools, targeting the inclusion of students with disabilities, to take further considerations towards the sensitivity of the students and create a healthy environment for all of its students by presenting a school environment that promotes productivity as well as mental wellbeing, supporting the UAE ‘s vision of “Accessibility for all“.
acoustic environments, lighting, cognitive disabilities, United Arab Emirates (UAE), special education, disability-friendly city