Architecture designed with the Deaf in mind

William Woods ASL

The William Woods University language and interpreting lab in the ASL Studies department has considered the various ways in which a space could be more beneficial for using sign language. But how could architecture serve to help both the hearing and the Deaf?

When you think about all of the architectural tools used in the hearing world, it’s very much made for just that — a hearing world. Doorbells, long, rectangular dinner tables, desks in rows all facing the teacher’s, narrow hallways, etc.

While accommodations are provided for the Deaf, as well as people with disabilities, most architecture does not consider it in every corner, every hallway, every path.

And this is the goal of researchers at Gallaudet University, the liberal arts university for the Deaf, through the design movement called DeafSpace.

“Now 10 years old, DeafSpace is an architectural approach that springs from the particular ways Deaf people perceive and inhabit space,” writes Amanda Kolson Hurley in a recent article for the architecture and design publication Curbed.

“It has grown from small workshops — in which participants expressed Deaf sensibilities that were well-known but had never been codified — into the key set of principles shaping new buildings and renovation projects on Gallaudet’s campus, helmed by a cross-disciplinary research institute.”

These key DeafSpace concepts considered include: sensory reach, space and proximity, mobility and proximity, light and color, and acoustics.

It means considering things such as:

  • U-shaped classrooms so that everyone can see each other and have a discussion
  • Wider hallways and paths and ramps for walkways in place of stairs, allow for more space to hold conversations while walking
  • Diffused lighting and directional lighting helps people signing see each other better
  • Mirrors present allow someone to know what is happening behind them, or if someone is walking up to have a conversation with them
  • Transparent or opaque doorways allow someone to know if someone is at the door or walking by
  • The list goes on

Derrick Behm, a former student who now works in the Office of Campus Design and Planning said in a video by, “We’ve begun to ask ourselves these questions and because of that gotten a lot more creative, begun to think bigger about how we can find different ways to align our ways of being to our environments.”

“DeafSpace is born of the idea that we have something to offer the world. That being Deaf confers some very interesting perspectives on life.”