Deaf Life19th October 2015

Leading the way on Deaf designed housing

'Deaf-Friendly by Design', American construction company DePaul show what is possible when proper consideration is made

by SLFirst Team

If you want to see what steps can be taken to ensure disability access in buildings, it's always a good idea to have a look at what is happening in America. The Person's with Disabilities law provides a strong platform for change, with legal challenges against organisations that undertake too little accessibility action, quite common. Having visited a number of hotels, public service buildings and care homes recently, I found myself thinking once again about buildings being 'deaf-friendly by design'. With 1 in 6 people in the UK now being Deaf or Hard of Hearing, and that number forecast to grow, it makes sense that new builds for Deaf or Hard of Hearing people might be designed with their needs built into the plans.

With nothing in the way of 'Deaf-Friendly by design' happening in the UK, I started looking for best practice in the international arena, and it was no surprise to find a recent announcement about the completion of the Rochester View Apartments in New York, a 61-unit community building, built with Deaf people in mind.

Construction company DePaul collaborated with different public and private partners to build the apartments which were formally opened a few days ago. The 61-unit community in Henrietta, New York has been built to serve tenants that qualify through a limited annual income. The DePaul Rochester View Apartments are New York State’s first apartment community to offer 'Deaf-Friendly by design' housing for tenants who may be Deaf, Hard of Hearing and those using American Sign Language (ASL).

Costing $17.6 million the DePaul Rochester View Apartments have the following Deaf Friendly by Design features:

  • State-of-the-art communication equipment and high-contrast visual design;
  • Open floor plans with handrails;
  • An elevator accessible from the common area;
  • Lighting for high visibility;
  • Adaptive equipment;
  • Bedrooms wired to allow for bed shakers in case of fire or other emergencies;
  • Hard-wired strobe lighting for CO2 and fire alarms
  • Lighted door alarms;
  • Video phone and video conferencing capability;
  • Controlled secure access;
  • Security cameras throughout the campus; and
  • An on-site manager fluent in ASL.

Demonstrating complete connection with the Deaf community with this project, DePaul also commissioned work from local artists as well as the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) so that they now display artwork by Deaf people in the building.

The one and two bedroom apartments have a fully-equipped kitchen with a range, refrigerator and microwave, and a wall-mounted flat screen TV which includes a cable service and closed captioning. The building is Wi-Fi accessible, with secure storage area for each tenant, and fitness equipment is available, making it a comfortable and well equipped place to live.

President of DePaul, Mark Fuller is understandably proud of the project, describing his company's involvement in the following terms. “DePaul is pleased to be a community partner providing quality affordable housing options for people in need along with supports that can accommodate persons who may be Deaf, hard of hearing and those using ASL. The DePaul Rochester View Apartments are the first of their kind in the state and we are so proud to be part of this pivotal project that will bring so much to this community.  The DePaul Rochester View Apartments are an example of progress and partnership in action.”

HCR Commissioner James S. Rubin added, “....this new development is enhancing the quality of life for the persons who may be Deaf, Hard of Hearing or use American Sign Language who call this place home." 

Speaking at the opening event, Anthony DiGiovanni of the Rochester View Apartments (RVA) Advisory Board of Professionals,  said, "DePaul has paved the way toward providing the Deaf community with much-needed affordable housing. This process represents a long road for Deaf community members since this topic has surfaced from time to time for more than 25 years. The spirit of a successful collaboration between DePaul and the Deaf community is what brought RVA to Rochester.” 

Through their partnership with the local Deaf community, the RVA contain a stained glass piece created by Jacqueline Schertz, a local stained glass artist who is Deaf. Local Deaf artist Randy Dunham, painted abstract art which is displayed in the building. The complex also displays photography by professional photographer Janet Cruz and the Deaf Quilt Club donated a handmade quilt which now welcomes visitors and resuidents to the main building.

With many people within the Deaf community benefitting from advances in technology in recent years, we can but hope this concept of 'Deaf Friendly by Design', will grow and influence architects and building designers in all parts of the world. Building homes and commercial premises which are Deaf-Friendly will serve to future proof society as age related deafness increases, although experience tells us that Deaf-Friendly adaptations tend to benefit everybody in any case. It's just common sense!

Article by SLFirst Team

posted in Community / Deaf Life

19th October 2015