When we think about people with mobility difficulties getting around the buildings that are not accessible without elevators or wide doorways, many do not realize that traditional buildings are not accessible in some ways to deaf and hard of hearing people, too. The concept of deaf-friendly environments is called DeafSpace which guidelines include “the five major touch points between deaf experiences and the built environment: space and proximity, sensory reach, mobility and proximity, light and color, and finally acoustics”. They were developed by Hansel Bauman, a director of campus planning and design at Gallaudet and an architect with HBHM Architects.
For example, hearing people can hear each other from one room to another while deaf people can see each other only through glasses or through wall openings or get each others’ attention by tapping on wooden floors. A lot of emphasis is made on good lighting conditions to reduce glare and eye fatigue. Those spaces are also designed for those using hearing aids and cochlear implants to reduce reverberation and background noises.
DeafSpace guidelines are part of universal design that benefits everyone regardless of their levels of hearing:
“Personally, I’ve come to a conclusion that the ‘Deaf Space’ principles would benefit everyone all over the world, not just deaf people, because humans are naturally collective and tactile,” says Ryan Commerson, a graduate student at Gallaudet University who enrolled in a course on ‘Deaf Space’, “For me, ‘Deaf Space’ is just one more validation that being deaf is truly a great thing; that being a visual-tactile oriented member of a collectivist culture has something of value that can be shared with the world.”
Sorenson Language and Communication Center, located on campus of Gallaudet University, one of the world’s leading universities for deaf and hard of hearing people, is a great example of DeafSpace. It includes classrooms, laboratories, clinics, libraries, and office space, and houses American Sign Language and Deaf Studies, and Hearing, Speech, and Language Sciences departments. The building was designed by SmithGroup design team that also employed George Balsley, a deaf architect from Amherst, Massachussets.
Ironically, SmithGroup’s video of the Sorenson Center on their website is not captioned, but below is a captioned YouTube video with more information about the building and DeafSpace elements.