What Is DeafSpace?

David Plick — 

“Instead we propose a different framing: that of ‘Deaf gain’. What is it that we gain by the experience of becoming Deaf?” –Derrick Behm, Office of Campus Design & Planning, Gallaudet University

Perhaps the greatest difference between architecture and mass-produced design is its devotion to user experience. Instead of plopping down the same exact building in any space, architecture analyzes the topography of the land, the built and natural environment around it, and the use of the space, by whom and for what purpose. There is perhaps no greater example of this than DeafSpace, Gallaudet University’s pioneering approach to designing for their student population.

“Gallaudet University, federally chartered in 1864, is a bilingual, diverse, multicultural institution of higher education that ensures the intellectual and professional advancement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals through American Sign Language and English.” It is located in Washington, DC, and has an enrollment of almost 2,000 students. Their motto, because they are the only collegiate institution in the world strictly for deaf or people hard of hearing, is “There is no other place like this in the world.”

DeafSpace is an approach to design that incorporates Deaf people’s perceptions of space and how they live in it. After performing qualitative studies, interviewing many students on their habits and preferences, principles were laid out which guided the design of new buildings and renovations. Here are a few of the design principles:

Group Space

Classrooms and annexes are designed with open space between students. In the classroom the tables and chairs are made into a U-shape, so students can visually connect with each other.

Wider Walkways and Ramps

When people of hearing walk side by side, they can be very close together, or not even look at each other, but this is not so for deaf or hard of hearing people. In DeafSpace, walking paths and stairs are widened to give people the needed space to visually communicate.

Also, if there is an option, ramps are preferred to stairs to also allow for smoother movement, so more focus can be placed on visual connection.

Color and Light

To contrast skin tone, blues and greens are used to reduce eye strain. There are more mirrors to allow people to know what’s happening behind them.

DeafSpace is not only an example of how thoughtful design can truly improve the lives of people, but also of the inherent goodness that exists in people. It shows that humans are social, supportive, and thoughtful creatures.

By: David Plick

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