Gallaudet University’s Unique Building Design for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired

When you consider technology designed for the hearing impaired, it is likely that hearing aids, cochlear implants, and closed-captioning top the list. Would construction come to mind? Gallaudet University which is the world’s only liberal arts institution for the deaf is architecturally designing space specifically for the hearing impaired. With the goal of making communication and wayfinding more manageable for the deaf and those with hearing problems, the university is providing space that functions more efficiently for these hard-working students needs.

A Problem Recognized

College campuses, traditionally designed in a manner that is not friendly to those who are deaf or hearing impaired, present everyday challenges. Yes, numerous institutions provide services for these students, but Gallaudet University is taking it a step further by addressing the architecture of the university. The design approach at Gallaudet Universtiy known as DeafSpace is design and construction of spaces with hearing-impaired students in mind. The building structure of Gallaudet University addresses common issues for those people who experience difficulty hearing

A Unique Design

A tour of the university will show you a campus that appears no different from any other college: students hustling across common areas, others relaxing with books underneath shade trees, maybe a few frisbees flying through the air. However, a closer examination reveals a unique architectural design. Entryways are wider to allow signers room to gesture. Automatic doors are in place, so students do not have to stop mid-phrase to grab a door handle. Common areas feature horseshoe-shaped benches that encourage conversation circles for those with hearing difficulty. Even the lighting makes following signing a more comfortable experience.

Cutting Edge Principles

The DeafSpace project began in 2005. Throughout the following years, architects developed approximately 150 design elements to address five major points. The goals of addressing the aspects are to promote visual communication, personal safety, and well being:

  1. Space and proximity encourage facial expressions and body movement which are essential for non-hearing communication. Thus, extra space is provided to accommodate signing.
  2. Sensory reach allows students the chance to read their environment. Spacial orientation and activity awareness alerts students to activities in their surroundings that may not be apparent to hearing people.
  3. Mobility takes into account the problems with a conversation on the go. DeafSpace design seeks to make campus navigation easier with fewer
  4. Light and color affect visual communication. Poor lighting conditions, glare, shadow patterns, and backlighting are causes of eye fatigue and impede visual Soft lighting and color are used to contrast skin tones and to promote sign language.
  5. Acoustics are the part of DeafSpace philosophy which seeks to provide quiet acoustical areas. Echos are extremely distracting for students with hearing aids and cochlear implants, so an effort is made to minimize these culprits.

Gallaudet university continues to push the boundaries of architectural designs for its campus. Focusing on the construction of an environment that considers the needs of deaf and hearing-impaired students, the university is promoting a better more functional learning environment for all of its students.


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