How Gallaudet University’s Architects Are Redefining Deaf Space

To operate it, you would stand in the hallway and pull a chain. Then, inside, a lead weight would drop to the floor. Vibrations from that thunk alerted residents that someone was calling. A standard doorbell wouldn’t have worked because residents wouldn’t have heard it: Gallaudet is a university for the Deaf.

.. For many at Gallaudet, including people who can communicate through speech, deafness is not an impairment or even an inconvenience. Deaf (with a capital D) is a cultural identity that stems from pride in signed language and what Deaf Studies professors call “Deaf ways of being,” or shared sensory experiences and cultural traditions.

.. The DeafSpace philosophy rests on five basic principles. The first is space and proximity. Deaf individuals often initiate communication with eye contact and need to maintain it over the course of a conversation. Facial expressions are important in ASL. So are body movements; to be able to sign comfortably, a person needs adequate space—more than is typically required for someone engaged in spoken conversation.

.. The least Deaf-supportive space Bauman could think of, when I asked him what it might be, was the traditional classroom with straight rows of desks; that layout breaks up lines of communication, except between student and teacher.