Visual Accessibility: Deaf Space

Workplace and educational architecture has developed immensely in the last 100 years.  You will find many new office spaces and college campuses more open and inviting in their blueprints.  This is a benefit not only to the daily associate or student, but it especially impacts those who have low/no vision or use sign language.

Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. is the only university in the world where all its programs are geared towards Deaf and hard-of-hearing students using a bilingual approach in English and American Sign Language (ASL).  They use an innovative approach to education and specifically to architecture.  In 2005, Hansel Bauman officially established the term Deaf Space and its specifications.  This allows for full visual accessibility in a given environment.

Why DeafSpace?

Gallaudet University describes the purpose of Deaf Space in the following way:

Deaf people inhabit a rich sensory world where vision and touch are a primary means of spatial awareness and orientation. Many use sign language, a visual-kinetic mode of communication and maintain a strong cultural identity built around these sensibilities and shared life experiences. Our built environment, largely constructed by and for hearing individuals, presents a variety of surprising challenges to which deaf people have responded with a particular way of altering their surroundings to fit their unique ways-of-being.  This approach is often referred to as DeafSpace. (DeafSpace)

DeafSpace RequirementsDeaf Space

Before Bauman created the DeafSpace Project (DSP), the concept of visual accessibility still existed in places like Deaf clubs and homes.  Alarm clocks and door bells that flash lights instead of make sounds, round tables instead of rectangle ones, and other visual considerations have been implemented for many years.  But the specifications for building a structure and rooms geared towards visual ease did not take root until Bauman’s creation of the DSP.

There are five requirements when building DeafSpace architecture that must be taken into consideration.

  1. Sensory Reach
  2. Space and Proximity
  3. Mobility and Proximity
  4. Light and Color
  5. Acoustics

Read about what each aspect includes in detail here.

Check out this video for what Deaf Space looks like.

What Can I Do?

Whether you need accessible spaces yourself or work with someone who does, you can make an environment more visually friendly by following the concepts of Deaf Space.  As stated by Gallaudet, most architectural work is done by people who can hear.  There is little to no consideration for visibility.  With awareness, we can increase the use of Deaf Space concepts.  Think of things like, can everyone see who is talking, are the lights too dim/bright, could the chairs be put in a circle instead of rows, or is there a larger room we could use for openness?

Feel free to contact MT&A for more information on how to use Deaf Space to be more visually friendly, and read here about how to listen to your clientele’s expertise in this area.


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Photo Credit:

MT & Associates | Sign Language Interpreting Practice BBB Business Review