Designing for Deafness
Recently, Gallaudet University revamped some of their dorms and I figured examining what they did to help their deaf students feel more at home could give us an idea about how to go about designing a house for deafness.
The first thing is space. Hallways particularly need to be large enough for people to walk two abreast so they have the space to sign to each other. This was especially important in the walkways around the campus.
There are plenty of open spaces. Ramps leading to higher levels are wide and open which allows those having a conversation to see anyone approaching. They can stop signing if the conversation is private or the person entering the space can easily see and decide to join in.
DoorsDoors can interrupt conversation when sign is being used so there are few doors and most are sliding.
Interestingly, most of the dorms are painted a pale blue because this is more conducive to listening and concentration. White, which is often the most common colour in buildings, causes glare and detracts from hand movements.
The kitchen has a mid-room island bench so those making the meal don't have their back to anyone and the can look at each other and sign without stopping the task they are involved in.
Even thought I can hear when I wear my cochlear implant processors, there are some things which would make it easier for me in my own home.
Having the house soundproofed/insulated would be beneficial, because it keeps noise in the rooms in which it is made thus making it easier to concentrate on conversation.
Having appliances with delayed start programs means I can set these to times when I don't need to be in that room, thus controlling the noise.
Floor coverings are extremely important. Hard coverings such as tiles and stone can cause sound to bounce around the room creating an echo. This can be minimised by hanging curtains and pictures which serve to break up the sound and stop the echo.
It is important that rooms are lit well. Without good lighting it is hard to see the speaker and especially if I don't have my processors on and I am trying to lip read I must make sure that my companions are not back lit which, of course, means that I cannot see their faces and therefore cannot lip read.
And then there is television, radio, dvds, music and other forms of media (computer, android, ipad etc). These are all part of our lives so making the environment easy for me to listen to these is important to me and my family. Having a hearing loop around the area where the television is can help with hearing, making sure the television aerial has enough strength to display subtitles/captions, creating good listening environments and using quality assistive listening devices can be a simple way of enhancing the listening experience.
Telephone has become our most important method of communication. Installing a telephone right near an internet hub can allow captioned phone calls, using loudspeaker phones, those with tswitch capability or internet phone (Skype) to your computer can make it easier to communicate. Creating a private environment to make some of these calls could be important.
There are numerous ways a home, office, school or public building can be friendly for the deaf. With just a little forethought they can be designed to help deaf people rather than making it harder for us to communicate. Most are small things and if added at the design stage will not add dramatically to the cost of a building.
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