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Gallaudet’s Deaf Spaces

Enabling the Environment

Washingtonian, January 2016

Walking into the Sorenson Language and Communication Center at Gallaudet University in Northeast DC can feel, at first, like walking into any new academic building on any American college campus.

Students chat away as the doors slide open. They carry their laptops and backpacks into an atrium. They catch sight of friends walking on upper floors and greet them.

The building starts to seem a lot more remarkable, though, when you tour it with Hansel Bauman, the university architect at Gallaudet, America’s only liberal-arts college for the deaf and hard of hearing. It’s the little things that are different: Bauman points out the wide entryways that allow signers more room to gesture and the automatic doors that don’t require anyone to stop mid-phrase to grab a handle. In the common room, a large, horseshoe-shaped bench fosters the kind of “conversation circles” in which deaf people feel comfortable. Diffuse natural light makes it easy to follow friends’ and teachers’ signing.

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Photograph by Andrew Propp