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DeafSpace: Principles and Elements of DeafSpace


Principles and Elements

Shows an example of deafspace circular design.

The image at left is from the University of Notre Dame. The list of contents is from: DeafSpace Design Guidelines (unpublished working draft), compiled by Hansel Bauman and other contributors. Included with permission of the author. Thanks to the architect, Hansel Bauman, for sharing this detailed 85-page document on DeafSpace. Please note that 'DeafSpace' is a registered service mark of Gallaudet University. You can find the document linked below.

Space and Proximity

Space and Proximity

As conversation groups grow in numbers the space between individuals increases to allow visual connection for all parties. This basic dimension of the space between people impacts the basic layout of furnishings and building spaces (Gallaudet University, Deaf Space).

When communicating in Sign Language, more space is needed between speaking partners to obtain a good visual of the conversation. The space should be between 3 feet and 10 feet for the conversation to be clear to each of the individuals. The space and proximity principle influences the design of a building because it means that areas need to be wide instead of narrow. For example, hallways need to be wide enough so that people can walk side-by-side when having a visual conversation.

1 Space and Proximity Elements (pp. 30-41)

1.1 Degrees of Enclosure

1.1.1. Private space (balance of enclosure and openness)

1.1.2 Within a public space (semi-private space within)

1.2. Formal Gathering Spaces

1.2.1 Group & Seating Arrangements

1.2.2. Presentation Spaces

1.2.3. Classrooms ("horseshoe" seating arrangement)

1.2.4 Meeting Rooms

1.2.5 Lecture Halls & Auditoriums

1.3 Collective Space - Promoting Connection

1.3.1 Program Distribution

1.3.2. Nodes

1.3.3 Eddies (places to stop out of the flow of traffic)

1.3.4 Connecting Interior Spaces

1.3.5. Visual Connection Between Floors

1.3.6. Linking Exterior & Interior Spaces

1.3.7 Flexible Casual Seating Arrangements

1.3.8 Fixed Casual Seating Arrangements

1.3.9 Conversation Pedestals & Shelves

Mobility and Proximity

Mobility and Proximity

While walking together in conversation signers will tend to maintain a wide distance  for clear visual communication.  The signers will also shift their gaze between the conversation and their surroundings scanning for hazards and maintaining proper direction (Gallaudet University, DeafSpace).
When on the move, people need to observe possible barriers or obstacles ahead of them as they walk, jog, drive, or bike. In the case of Deaf individuals, conversing while walking requires that they take turns keeping an eye on what is in front of them in case there is an obstacle. For example, telephone poles on sidewalks can be harmful obstacles, especially considering how narrow the sidewalks are in most cities. Conversational signers would warn their partners if they are about to walk into an obstacle. In accordance with the concept of DeafSpace, it would be necessary to ensure that obstacles or barriers are moved away from general walking paths. For example, hallways should be free of objects or steps, unless in stairways.

                                                Elements of Mobility and Proximity

3.1 Pathway and Flow (pg. 64)

      3.1.1 Corridor Dimensions

      3.1.2 Conversation Eddies and Pathway Flow

      3.1.3 Corridor Ancillary Uses (pg. 65)

      3.1.4 Door Swings and Corridor Width

      3.1.5 Door Closers and Hold-Opens

      3.1.6 Soft Intersection (pg. 66)

      3.1.7 Sidewalk & Pathway Dimensions & Design

      3.1.8 Shoulder Zones (pg. 67)

      3.1.9 Dominance of Pedestrian Pathway

      3.1.10 Ballard and Barriers

3.2 Ramps and Stairs (pg.68)

      3.2.1 Stair Configuration

      3.2.2 Stair Dimensions

      3.2.3 Stair Landing (pg.69)

      3.2.4 Stairs and Cross Circulation

      3.2.5 Ramp Configuration and Dimension

3.3 Thresholds (pg. 70)

      3.3.1 Sliding Entrances

      3.3.2 Airlock and Vestible Dimensions

      3.3.4 Textured Transitions (pg.71)

      3.3.5 Eased or Eliminated Curbs

3.4 Rhythm and Datum (pg. 71)

      3.4.1 Horizontal Datum

      3.4.2 Arcades

      3.4.3 Building Facades (pg.73)

      3.4.4 Landscape



Deaf individuals experience many different kinds and degrees of hearing levels.  Many use assistive devices such as hearing aids or cochlear implants to enhance sound.  No matter the level of hearing, many deaf people do sense sound in a way that can be a major distraction, especially for individuals with assistive hearing devices.  Reverberation caused by sound waves reflected by hard building surfaces can be especially distracting, even painful, for individuals using assistive devices. Spaces should be designed to reduce reverberation and other sources of background noise (Gallaudet University, Deaf Space).

Acoustics take into consideration the fact that Deaf individuals may have some type of hearing assistance device or have sensitivity to vibrations in buildings. It is important for buildings to be structurally designed to offset vibrations. For example, old houses are infamous for their creaking noises, which produce vibrations that disturb Deaf individuals. Reverberation needs to be reduced in buildings, along with muting of background noises, to minimize interference with hearing devices and other sensitivity to sounds/vibrations.

Acoustics and EMI Elements (pp 84-89)

5.1 Acoustics

          5.1.1 Sound Reverberation: Shaping Space

          5.1.2 Equipment Noise: Communication

          5.1.3 Background Noise: Program Adjacencies

5.2 EMI

          5.2.1 EMI: Shielding or Isolating Sources

          5.2.2 EMI: Reducing Discharge

          5.2.3 EMI: Program Adjacencies

Sensory Reach

Sensory Reach

Spatial orientation and the awareness of activities within our surroundings are essential to maintaining a sense of well-being.  Deaf people “read” the activities in their surroundings that may not be immediately apparent to many hearing people through an acute sensitivity of visual and tactile cues such as the movement of shadows, vibrations, or even the reading of subtle shifts in the expression/position of  others around them (Gallaudet University, Deaf Space).

Deaf individuals have an acute situational and environmental awareness, with wide peripheral vision and increased sensitivity to movements around them. Deaf people are uncomfortable when their backs are to others and/or activities, because they are somewhat "blinded" to what is going on behind them. Therefore, in accordance with DeafSpace principles, it is best if the Deaf person has greater than 180 degree vision. In classrooms, for example, a circular seating arrangement is better than the atypical layout of rows of seats. Likewise, in a work environment, cubicles or offices should be designed so that the Deaf individual faces outward from his/her desk.

Elements of Sensory Reach

2.1 Visual Cues and Legibility (pg.44)

      2.1.1 View Corridors

      2.1.2 Visible Destinations in Sequence

      2.1.3 Location of Building Entrances (pg. 45)

      2.1.4 Building Legibility

      2.1.5 Visible Destination Within Building (pg. 46)

      2.1.6 Transparency in Movement Space

2.2 Transparency and Privacy (pg. 48)

      2.2.1 Quality of Transparency

      2.2.2 Door and Transparency

      2.2.3 Transoms (pg. 49)

      2.2.4 Sidelites

2.3 Spatial Awareness-Transparency (pg. 50)

      2.3.1 Glazed Entrances

      2.3.2 Windows at the end of corridors

      2.3.3 Room Enclosures (pg. 51)

      2.3.4 Glass Elevators

      2.3.5 Stair Enclosures

      2.3.6 Bay Windows (pg. 52)

      2.3.7 Revealing Stair Enclosures

2.4 Sensory Reach-Reflection (pg.54)

      2.4.1 Qualities of Reflection

      2.4.2 Reflection: Movement (pg.55)

      2.4.3 Reflection: Space

2.5 Sensory Reach-Vibration (pg. 56)

      2.5.1 Vibration Within Rooms

      2.5.2 Vibration Zones

      2.5.3 Reduce Unwanted Neighbor Vibration (pg. 57)

      2.5.4 Equipment Vibration and Isolation

2.6 Sensory Reach-Cultural (pg.58)

      2.6.1 Making Work Visible

      2.6.2 Seeing Colleagues at Work

      2.6.3 Connecting with Cultural Expression (pg.59)

2.7 Sensory Reach- Communication Systems (pg. 60)

      2.7.1 Visual Annunciation Systems

      2.7.2 Visual Doorbell (pg.61)

      2.7.3 Strobes

      2.7.4 Shaking Devices

Light and Color Elements

Light and Color

Poor lighting conditions such as glare, shadow patterns, back lighting interrupt visual communication and are major contributors to the causes of eye fatigue that can lead to a loss of concentration and even physical exhaustion. Proper electric lighting and architectural elements used to control daylight can be configured to provide a soft, diffused light 'attuned to deaf eyes.' Color can be used to contrast skin tone to highlight sign language and facilitate visual wayfinding (Gallaudet University, DeafSpace).

Color has a strong effect on everyone's vision. Considering that members of the Deaf community may experience more eyestrain than others, as their language is visual rather than verbal, it has been suggested that soft green and blue tones are the best choices as background colors. The reason is that soft green and blue tones match everyone's skin color, which will cause less eyestrain for Deaf people while conversing in Sign Language.

Light is also an important factor for the Deaf community because when the lighting is poor or too bright it may cause eyestrain or headaches. Soft, diffused lighting, similar to when the glare of the sun is blocked out, with toned down brightness. Natural, diffused lighting is better than bright, fluorescent light bulbs, for example.

Elements of Light and Color

4.1 Color and Surface Texture (Gallaudet & Bauman pg.76)

      4.1.1 Modulation of Light

      4.1.2 Color Eddies: Shaping Space

      4.1.3 Surface Glare (pg. 77)

      4.1.4 Color: Contrast Surface and Visual

      4.1.5 Color: Orientation and Way-finding

4.2 Solar Control Daylight Shade (pg.78)

      4.2.1 Avoid Backlight

      4.2.3 Balance Light by usage of Multiple Sources

      4.2.4 Adjust control of light

      4.2.5 Light Shelves (pg.79)

      4.2.6 Shaping Space (Lighting Eddies)

      4.2.7 Shaded Paths

4.3 Electric Light (82)

      4.3.1 Shaping Space: Light Layers

      4.3.2 Light Dimming: Control and Comfort

      4.3.3. Light for Presentation (pg.83)

      4.3.4 Pools of Light at Nighttime

      4.3.5 Orientation, Way-finding and Movement

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