Learning Spaces

Rethinking Learning Space as DeafSpace

14734962322_45d7fff3e9_zby James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

As teachers, we have limited control over the spaces where we teach – let alone the built design of those spaces! However, we do have some control over the activities and orientations that students experience in those spaces. Room features such as furniture, lighting, acoustics, and technology each offer different innovative modes to rethink how teaching and learning happens. And while the adjustment of these features has everything to do with the physical and sensorial needs of learners, it also helps materialize the more abstract goals we set for the course itself (e.g., active learning, collaboration, engagement, dialogue, social justice, etc.). In myriad ways, it is about creating a rich, multi-sensory learning environment where all students can begin to possibly reach those goals (Hurley, 2016). Rethinking learning space as DeafSpace is one pedagogical lens or tool to support this type of instructional development.

What would learning spaces look and feel like if they were designed for the deaf and hard of hearing? This question motivates some of the pedagogical work emerging from the DeafSpace Project at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. DeafSpace is defined as an “approach to design and architecture that is informed by the unique sensory experiences of those who don’t hear” (Harris & Barton, 2016). For example, creating clear sightlines, minimizing eyestrain, and maximizing sensory awareness are a few ways in which deaf people alter their surroundings to support visual conversations and new forms of community engagement. Researchers at Gallaudet University (2016) believe these types of alterations offer valuable insights about the relationship between the senses and the ways we construct learning environments.

Set aside some time this week to learn more about what DeafSpace looks like in action at Gallaudet University. Then, explore how proximity, mobility, light and color, and acoustics function in the spaces where you teach. What accommodations are needed? What adjustments are (not) possible? How does the learning space matter, or come to matter, for how students learn? Finally, consider visiting the classroom before the first time you meet students there to observe its features and imagine the possible adjustments that are needed.

If you would like to schedule a consultation to discuss DeafSpace specifically, or the relationship between learning space and course design more broadly, please contact the Reinert Center. Please also consider sharing your reactions to this blog post in the comments section below.




Gallaudet University (2016). What is DeafSpace? Retrieved from http://www.gallaudet.edu/campus-design/deafspace.html

Harris, J., & Barton, G. (2016, March 2). How architecture changes for the deaf. Retrieved from http://www.vox.com/2016/3/2/11060484/deaf-university-design-architecture

Hurley, A. K. (2016, March 2). How Gallaudet University’s architects are redefining deaf space. Retrieved from http://www.curbed.com/2016/3/2/11140210/gallaudet-deafspace-washington-dc