For the past few decades Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has changed the way we build public and private buildings. Most newer buildings — from banks to museums to department stores — have ramps, wide doors, accessible bathrooms and elevators specifically created to boost wheelchairs up to new levels.
Many crosswalks have textured pavement and audio recordings so that the sight-impaired can safely cross the street.
But there has been less attention paid to the needs of people who have trouble hearing. A surprising 1 in 8 people in the United States experiences hearing loss. Most of them can manage with hearing aids and cochlear implants — electrodes that transmit vibrations from sound into the inner ear, restoring at least partial hearing.
Still, an estimated 1 million Americans are profoundly deaf and use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate. For them, the modern world is often an interruption waiting to happen. Lines of sight are broken, narrow walkways and stairs prohibit chatting, and conversations are limited in a crowd.
The deaf see the world in a different light. For instance, the first football huddle was invented by the Gallaudet Bisons, the school's football team, so that opposing players couldn’t interpret their signs as they call plays.
An exciting architectural project called DeafSpace has been rethinking public spaces for the deaf. It was launched almost a decade ago by Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the largest university for deaf students in the United States. New university buildings have glass walls and multilevel open spaces for group discussions — with screened-off areas for private conversations.
Some of these simple but effective designs are now being incorporated into nearby commercial businesses, including coffee shops and restaurants that cater to Gallaudet students. The school is hoping to educate architects around the country about the needs of the deaf community.
Watch the video to see how innovative new architecture is helping the deaf to be heard.