Take a moment to stop what you’re doing, and close your eyes: What do you hear? A tea kettle? The hum of your computer? a television? A car driving by? All of these sounds tell you something about your environment: That water is boiling; that your computer is working well, or struggling, or processing something that makes it slower at the moment; that someone, perhaps in another room, is occupied; that traffic is flowing, or that it might be dangerous for children outside at play.
Now take away all those sounds. It can be disorienting; it makes you feel insecure. It also makes you more alert to other environmental cues, and to your other senses – particularly sight. If a person mumbles, or turns away, or moves their hand across their face while speaking to a deaf person, communication is disrupted. People can be sensitized to the challenges, but can architecture? Yes. It can be made suitable for various perceptions and perspectives.
When I lived in Scotland, I translated regularly (BSL) for the deaf in our church, and would hang out with deaf friends sometimes. Some of them lived in a flat complex designed for the visually or auditorily-impaired, with bold red counter tops, light switches and phones to help them navigate, as well as light signals for various things such as the door bell or the phone ringing. The deaf sports club was a wide-open space, with room for a large crowd to chat in groups; as a hearing person, it was a unique experience to be in a crowd of signing people: There are few secrets in the deaf community, because even across the room one can understand the conversation; and though we were all signing, it was not quiet – sounds made with the mouth to support the sign, or the slap of skin on skin, or a laugh, or the shifting of clothing could be heard.
Look at the layout of your room, or office: If your interaction with the people around you needs to be visual, what could potentially hinder it? A solid wall, a glaring light fixture, blind corners, stairs (which must be focused on, to navigate), or a narrow passage that makes it difficult to walk side by side, signing. Deaf architects have begun incorporating their unique considerations into designs, and they not only offer a unique perspective on architecture but, by doing so, have created some stunning spaces: Deaf Space. To see a short video on the topic, please click here. Do yourself a favour, and watch the video at least once without sound. Below are a few images of deaf space from Google Images.
As a writer, it is always fascinating for me to explore new perspectives, and to try to see the world around me through the eyes of others; doing so enriches the writing experience, and opens new possibilities in developing characters, environments, or situational elements.