10 Strategies to Design for the Deaf – Inclusive Design in Architecture
Why should deaf people adapt to a designed environment when we have the opportunity to design spaces that cater to their needs? Deaf space design creates seamless spaces that can eradicate boundaries for the accessibility and comfort of the deaf.
What is Deafscape Design?
Deafscape design arose from the root of the deaf community, Gallaudet University in Washington D.C – which provided a set of principle ideas to design a space while including the deaf community as a part of the major user group. It identified the fact that deaf people gain more than they lose – by heightened sensitivity compensated for by their other senses, mainly vision, and touch. Architects hold the key to identifying the various methods to design spaces for such unique user groups, in efforts to create an equivalent experience for both able and disabled people.
Integrating Deafspace Design in Space
Consideration towards different spatial orientations in design, efficient lighting, material usage and form development could facilitate better navigation and communication for deaf individuals. Decreasing visual barriers and encouraging open plans and spacious rooms could aid better communication due to the use of sign language. Furniture arrangements can also be made to create clusters and strengthen eye contact.
Understanding Proxemics of the Deaf
Different spatial distances that influence human behaviour are known as proxemics – they are usually influenced by cultural and behavioural aspects of humans. The differentiating factor of deaf proxemics is the requirement of eye contact between any two signing individuals. This reduces the standard radius of proxemics such that it can promote social interaction between groups of deaf people.
10 Deafspace Design Strategies You Can Follow
Conversation Pedestals and Shelves
Transparency in Circulation Enclosures
Wider Circulation Spaces
Use of Color for Navigation
Reducing Surface Glare
Applicable for planning on a larger scale – to encourage social interaction during the transition between two spaces
They can be located at spaces where two or more pathways intersect and where major navigation changes occur
Areas placed along pathways and major routes for people to pause for socialising during transition between two spaces.
Allows people to step away from the flow of traffic.
Can be used for momentary pauses and the required area can be scaled as per the intended function.
3. Conversation Pedestals and Shelves
Signing individuals may find their belongings to be a barrier for unrestrained conversation. Therefore, introducing pedestals or shelves to place their belongings away during a conversation should be provided.
This would allow signers to comfortably have a sign language conversation in social spaces.
4. Entrance Locations
Location of entrances of spaces within a building or location of different building entrances should be placed such that they are clearly visible from the major circulation routes and open spaces.
5. Transparency in Circulation Enclosures
Glass elevators and placement of windows towards the exterior can be used to reduce the sense of confinement.
Transparency allows better visual link between spaces and also to the exterior, which aids wayfinding and navigation.
6. Vibration Zones
Deaf people are often startled by people approaching them from behind since they cannot sense any auditory clues.
Acts as a tactile clue for the deaf to identify people approaching them from behind, a limited area of connected key spaces can be treated with a different material that transfers vibrations efficiently.
7. Wider Circulation Spaces
Circulation spaces such as corridors, pathways and sidewalks should be wide enough to accommodate two-way traffic of signers.
Since signing individuals walk side by side while maintaining eye contact, more than one group of signers may require a minimum of 3 m to pass each other freely.
Treating the edges of the pathways with a different material may act as a visual and tactile clue to caution individuals of the presence of edges.
8. Soft Intersections
Corners can be treated to allow better visual connection.
This can be done by chamfering or introducing curved edges rather than sharp corners (which may lead to collisions).
9. Use of Color for Navigation
Using colour can act as an uncomplicated method of navigation within spaces and buildings for deaf individuals.
Consistent use of colour to provide visual clues (level change, presence of nodes, signages, etc.) can assist the deaf to easily navigate rather than pausing during signed conversations to comprehend the navigation.
10. Reducing Surface Glare
Materials must be chosen carefully in order to reduce glare that causes visual discomfort for signing individuals.
Matt finished materials are preferable over polished finishes – this significantly reduces the glare caused from interior and exterior surfaces.
Bringing to light the difficulties faced by the deaf community and the solutions along with it – implementation of deafspace design by architects can create an evolution of social spaces to one with universal accessibility.
Understanding and facilitating the requirements for all user groups is a major role of architects when it comes to design of spaces and buildings. Therefore, it is of prime importance that all users can easily navigate through a building – especially for those who have difficulty doing so.