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Accommodations for the Deaf:  Designing


Designing For The Deaf


By Amanda Milam-Porteous


There are several things to consider when a person designs a building. The ideas and decisions that need to be made can be difficult for an untrained professional. Even a trained professional can have a hard time designing a building if she is designing for a particular culture she is unfamiliar with. If the designers had a person of that particular culture help with the design decisions not only would the designing be much easier but also more functional and practical for that culture.

There is a huge range of situations that one would need to consider when designing a school building for the deaf. The building could develop into its full potential if the design team collaborates with the deaf community about its functionality. According to Hansel Bauman an architect at HBHM Architects, that is just what Gallaudet University did. Together a design team along with students and staff of the university “[aimed] to create an aesthetic that emerges out of the unique [way] deaf people inhabit the world.” Bauman goes further to say that by having the deaf design the building based on their needs brings the idea of “Deaf Architecture”. Since this school is for the deaf it only makes sense that the school is designed by people who know and understand what a deaf person needs to learn. “Transparency, openness, and visual connections are important aspects of deaf space” (Bauman). How will this “Deaf Architecture” change Gallaudet University?

According to Prabha Natarajan a staff reported with the Washington Business Journal, Gallaudet University started the “Deaf Architecture” with the James Lee Sorenson Communications and Language Center. She states that some students have decided to have the cochlear implants (allows limited hearing), which needed to be considered when designing the building. Some of the features of this building include, “no right-angled walls or sharp turns, since people can’t see or hear people coming around corners. Instead corners are curved” (Natarajan). The placement of windows was also very important. In this building “windows are located so they produce diffused light, not glaring light…so that students can see what is being signed” (Natarajan). This new building at the university is well thought out and designed specifically for the deaf and hearing impaired. It is “an inclusive learning environment totally compatible with the deaf way of being” (Bauman).

The design team who worked on the building focused “on a heightened visual experience or visu-centric” says Tracy Ostroff from the Institute for Human centered design. The inspiration of this visu-centric building came from nature and organic experience. When these two elements were combined the result was a building that is “natural and easy to use” (Ostroff). The building showed exactly what the concept of “the deaf state of being” is, “a natural and organic experience” (Ostroff).

There are so many different elements to take into consideration when designing a building for the deaf. Although many designers work closely with the customer when designing a building; she will never fully understand what design is the most practical and functional for a deaf person. Having a group of deaf individuals design the building that is being built for them is the only way to create a building that “celebrates deafness” (Natarajan).

Bauman, Hansel. “Deaf Diverse Design Guide.” Identifying the Principles of Deaf Space. 9 Nov. 2008.

Natarajan, Prabha. “Gallaudet University Redefines Deaf Classroom Design.” Washington Business Journal (5 Oct. 2007) 28 Nov. 2008.

Ostroff, Tracy. “Visu-Centric Design Drives Gallaudet Program.” Institute for Human Centered Design. 6 Nov. 2008



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