Notes from a DeafSpace talk by Hansel Bauman, plus going voice-off

March 22, 2016 – 6:56 pm

I went to Hansel Bauman’s talk on DeafSpace in Boston last Wednesday. Here are a few of my notes, lightly edited.

First, I was struck by Bauman’s presentation/interaction choices; they were good reminders that the medium is so inextricably part of the message. He started his presentation in ASL, directly addressing the deaf folks in the audience and letting us know that he would be voicing most of the presentation, then switched modalities. After the talk and Q&A (all interpreted), he came out to the cluster of signers that had formed at that point, and joined us in conversation. It saddens me that this is so rare as to be delightfully surprising, but it was nice to be acknowledged in a non-othering way.

I also enjoyed their starting question (which I paraphrase here since I didn’t catch the exact wording): If there were no people on Gallaudet’s campus, how would we tell that it was a Deaf Space just by walking around? (Starting answer: “Huh. We couldn’t.”) This came after some discussion on how taking up space is the first proof of existence (that’s a quote from someone whose name I didn’t catch), and having to constantly adapt the world is a material dialogue of “you’re not supposed to be here.”

On this note, I also appreciated the subtlety of observations the architects made about usage of space, backed in obvious, concrete ways with film data. For instance, they showed how people shuffled tables/chairs into a circle, dealt with chairs with arms, looked at each other while walking down a street engaged in conversation, shifted out of direct lighting, and so on. They were largely things that are so commonplace an adaptation that one might not think to address it; it’s just what we do when we’re used to worlds never quite fitting us. Their effective use of film made me think about my intermittent hopes to use video to back up my own research-related observations; lightweight documentary filmmaking may be a skill to develop more later.

There are two things ongoing in DeafSpace work that I’d love to keep an eye open for. First is the pedagogy used to bootstrap the d/Deaf/HoH users from Gallaudet into engagement with the design process, which feeds into my interest in teaching human-centered design in general. The second is the pattern language they’re developing from the DeafSpace projects that have gone up and are going up. (Plus: using the term “pattern language” correctly already earns bonus points in my book — but these are architects, so they would use that term correctly, if anyone would.)

As a side note, this event was also one of my first experiences choosing to stay voice-off in a mixed group of signers and non-signers, instead of simcomming, asynchronously translating myself into voice, or some other English-dominant modality that refuses the possibility of another person voicing me. I’m used to speaking my own English, and I’m not (yet?) a fluent signer, so even the thought of someone else voicing me is unnerving and distracting. Plus, if I’m in a conversation that is fundamentally in English… I’m going to be in English too, because that is my native language, and… why wouldn’t I?

But this time, the signed conversation was way more interesting to me than the spoken one — which is a rarity for me. And I could join it directly, just as I usually join English conversations as directly as I can. So… I did. I threw my CI and hearing aid in my pockets, threw my attention as far away from auditory channels as possible, and dove into the conversation with Bauman. I was vaguely aware that, at times, different people intermittently and spontaneously voiced me as needed for non-signing hearing people to understand the conversation (which I was pretty quiet for, because the other signers had far more interesting things to say). I had to very, very actively try not to look at them to lipread how they were voicing me (I can tell when people are talking, but not what they’re saying). It was a good experience; it was also a growth experience, but it was uncomfortable discomfort because of the dynamics and who was around (a few other Deaf people I already knew).

Turning my voice on again afterwards took… a surprising amount of effort, which is an effect that still makes me pause and ponder. The different kinds of effort that it takes to be in different ways of being is… intriguing. I will use the word intriguing here, for now.

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