Designing for the Deaf

For people who are deaf or hard of hearing, certain environments can be a deterrent to communication and hinder navigation. For deaf people, vision and touch provide spatial awareness and orientation, and lighting clear sight lines (within buildings and shared space) can aid visual communication and wayfinding.

Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C, America’s leading institute for higher education for the deaf and hard of hearing has issued “DeafSpace Guidelines” which address the ways in which deaf people have altered their surroundings to better suit their needs and design strategies we can implement going forward that address these issues. According to Gallaudet: “When deaf people congregate the group customarily works together to rearrange furnishings into a “conversation circle” to allow clear sight lines so everyone can participate in the visual conversation. Gatherings often begin with participants adjusting window shades, lighting and seating to optimize conditions for visual communication that minimize eyestrain. Deaf homeowners often cut new openings in walls, place mirrors and lights in strategic locations to extend their sensory awareness and maintain visual connection between family members.”

Graphic showing space needed for optimal visual communication. Via Atlantic Cities

Graphic showing space needed for optimal visual communication. Via Atlantic Cities

In 2005, Hansel Bauman, the director of campus design and planning at Gallaudet University, worked with faculty, students, and staff to research the behavior of deaf people within their environments. From this research, the DeafSpace guidelines emerged which now consist of over 150 DeafSpace design elements that address the major issues between the deaf experience and their physical environment including sensory experiences, mobility, promexics (use of space within interpersonal communication), light and color and acoustics change the behavior of deaf people within their environments. These design improvements have been implemented across the Gallaudet campus including within five residence halls (and another under construction) and the Sorenson Language and Communication Center. Bauman has found all of these issues essentially touch upon how to build community, embrace visual language and promote personal safety and well-being. Robert Sirvage, a Gallaudet professors says “DeafSpace really is about bringing a new perspective to the meaning of good design.”

A computer rendering of a room designed by DeafSpace design principles. Photo by Studio Twenty Seven Architecture via Atlantic Cities

A computer rendering of a room designed by DeafSpace design principles. Photo by Studio Twenty Seven Architecture via Atlantic Cities

The Sorenson Language and Communication Center designed with DeafSpace design principles. Photo by Gallaudet University via Atlantic Cities

The Sorenson Language and Communication Center designed with DeafSpace design principles. Photo by Gallaudet University via Atlantic Cities

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About The Accessible City

urban planner, california

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