The completed Sorenson Language and Communication Center features long, open sight lines, visibility between floors, gently curving corners, and ample windows. Gallaudet University
Most cities aren’t designed for deaf people. Sidewalks are frequently
too narrow or too crowded for deaf persons engaged in a conversation
that requires so-called “signing space.” Public benches are often set in
rows or squares, limiting the ability of the deaf to create the
“conversation circles” and open sight lines that they require. Urban
landscapes are so visually stimulating that they hinder communication
among people who rely on visual cues. And light fixtures may be too dim
or shine directly into signers’ eyes.
These things don’t just make a deaf person’s life more challenging;
they can make it dangerous. In January, three deaf people were struck by
a vehicle and seriously injured in Olanthe, Kansas, as they left a deaf
cultural event. The same thing happened to a deaf man last year in
In 2009, Deaf411, a public relations firm serving the deaf community, released a report on Deaf-Friendly Cities in the U.S.,
saluting places like Washington, D.C., Chicago, Seattle, Raleigh, and
Denver for their efforts to accommodate the hearing impaired. But for
every city on the list, countless others — including San Francisco, St.
Louis, Atlanta, and Philadelphia — did not make the cut.
Now Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the nation’s leading
institution for the deaf and hard of hearing, has produced a set of
so-called DeafSpace Guidelines that address those aspects of the urban
environment that inhibit communication and mobility among the
hearing-impaired. In doing so, architects and design researchers have
used technology to gather information on how deaf people use public
spaces and modify them to meet their needs. Campus officials say that
the guidelines have already begun a dialogue that they hope will have an
impact on urban development nationwide.