How to Design a Better City for Deaf People

By SARAH HOLDER: For More Info, Go Here…

Lighting, sound-deflecting surfaces, big spaces—all of these elements can influence a deaf person’s ability to communicate. DeafSpace design considers it all.

A museum atrium with a grand, lofted ceiling. A restaurant with an open kitchen, a candle-lit bar, and trendy metal chairs. A conference room with a long, rectangular table.

These spaces might look good. But to deaf and hard-of-hearing people who pass through them, the designs can be alienating: too echoey or loud to hear voices; too shadowy, dark, or blinding to discern sign language or read lips; or lacking necessary sight-lines.

Fixing the spaces—and avoiding reproducing them—isn’t easy, though. The reality is that, for many architects, designing rooms, buildings, and homes with the deaf and hard of hearing community in mind is not their first priority. But if any city is modeling more intentional design practices, it might be Washington, D.C.

The capital city is home to Gallaudet University, which is known as the only liberal arts college for deaf students in the world, and where the principles of “DeafSpace Design” first emerged about a decade ago. With those concepts at the fore, the university is currently working with local real estate developer JBG Smith to build 1.2 million square feet of residential, office, and retail space near the NoMa neighborhood’s food and shopping hall, Union Market; 5,000 square feet of which is being set aside, for a time, to be occupied by deaf-owned businesses.

At an event organized by the NoMa Business Improvement District last month as part of their “Nerds in NoMa” free speaking series, some of the players involved in the Gallaudet expansion plan, along with dozens of deaf and hard of hearing residents of the city, gathered to discuss how DeafSpace design can be scaled up and out. Moderated by Sam Swiller, the founder of Holbrook Capital and an advisor on Gallaudet’s real estate investments, the panelists included Hansel Bauman, the Executive Director of Campus Design and Planning at Gallaudet and Ayisha Swann, who oversees development projects at JBG Smith; along with Jon Cetrano, the owner and founder of Streetcar 82 Brewing, and Robb Dooling, a commissioner on a NoMa Advisory Neighborhood Council.

“One of the big buzzwords right now is ‘universal design,’” said Bauman. “I think in some ways deaf space actually is a critique or criticism of the idea of universal design—that everything fits all.” Instead, he said, DeafSpace design challenges architects, and everyone else, to understand how different people really use and move through space, and shape it accordingly.

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