Deafness, disability and design: the case of ‘Deaf Village Ireland’

I have been visiting Deaf Village Ireland regularly over the past nine months, speaking and walking through it with management, staff and users of the centre. Located in Cabra, in the northwestern area of Dublin, Deaf Village Ireland is a social, leisure and community hub serving the needs of the d/Deaf communities in Ireland as well as the local neighbourhood.

Deaf Village Ireland was of interest to the Universalising Design project because it was developed by Dermont Foley Landscape Architects (DFLA) according to DeafSPACE principles for deaf and hard of hearing users. The scheme was followed and reviewed by representatives from Gallaudet University, the world leading higher education institution for deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

Upon arrival, DVI feels and looks like a new space, airy, welcoming and pleasant: an embodiment of good design, which of course is what Universal Design strives to be, good design for all. It is only upon further inspection, looking out for and noticing certain features that it becomes clear how carefully designed this space is.

Circular spaces and are very important when designing for d/Deaf users, because users need to be able to look at each other when they are signing. Therefore seats and benches that are circularly arranged, as they are in DVI, or located in such a way that there is space to rearrange chairs in a circle to suit the needs of the group are critical.

CircCircular benches, DVI gardens

 

 

 

 

 

Light and visibility are also crucial, as communication is often mainly visual. DVI is literally flooded with natural light, coming in from the large, floor to ceiling windows at the front, the light wells throughout the building, and the glass roof of the central atrium. This makes the space pleasant for any user, but it is crucial in allowing signing and reading facial expressions for d/Deaf users

Café tables, DVI interior

 

 

 

 

 

Even though the relationship between UD and d/Deaf communities is complex, because of the many issues surrounding the fact that UD in Ireland is framed in terms of disability, and the d/Deaf communities are at the very least ambiguous, if not out rightly hostile to the notion of being characterized as ‘disabled’, DVI is clearly a beautiful example of UD in practice: good design for all.

Feature by Luna Glucksberg, December 2015