Transcripts

Seeing Eye To Eye: Examining How Deaf People Move Through The World

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and for the next hour we here on the "Metro Connection" team are gonna take you by the hand as we go strolling…

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1

00:00:17
Running…

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1

00:00:18
Rolling…

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2

00:00:18
Stretching…

MR. JACOB FENSTON

00:00:20
Road-tripping…

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2

00:00:21
Meandering…

FENSTON

00:00:21
Skateboarding…

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3

00:00:22
Trekking…

SHEIR

00:00:23
All over the D.C. region with a show we're calling…

GROUP

00:00:26
On The Move.

SHEIR

00:00:31
And on today's On The Move show, we're gonna meet a guy on a road trip to visit late presidents. We'll hear from soldiers learning to move after devastating injuries. We'll go on a world-wind tour of an election campaign where the candidates are anything but scripted. And we'll hang out with local skateboarders and find out how D.C.'s skateboarding scene is really taking off.

SHEIR

00:01:06
But first, when it comes to moving around -- All right. So I'm heading over toward H Street and 8th -- many of us rely on our eyes -- Waiting for the signal to change -- and our ears. Lots of people on the sidewalk. But what happens when we're navigating space and we don't have access to the latter.

MR. ROBERT SIRVAGE

00:01:26
Hearing people can hear what's occurring behind them, so deaf people are taking advantage of other cues to what's happening in their space.

SHEIR

00:01:35
This is Robert Sirvage.

SIRVAGE

00:01:36
And I am a sign language user and I'm utilizing right now a voice interpreter to interpret my remarks.

SHEIR

00:01:45
Robert works at Gallaudet University.

SIRVAGE

00:01:47
And I hold two positions there.

SHEIR

00:01:48
One position in the deaf studies department. And the other …

SIRVAGE

00:01:51
In the office of design and planning, specializing in deafspace and its research.

SHEIR

00:01:55
Deafspace refers to space that's been optimized for use by deaf people who primarily rely on vision and touch to navigate the world, right. So an interior deafspace might feature wider stairs and hallways, plenty of light, and seating areas arranged in circles or semicircles, but what about an exterior deafspace? Well, that's where Robert Sirvage comes in with his latest research, which he conducted, by the way, right here on H Street Northeast.

SIRVAGE

00:02:20
What I did was have two different groups, each of them in dyads of two, navigating the space, one group using sign language and the other using spoken English.

SHEIR

00:02:29
This afternoon Robert's brought along a pair of signers to reenact the experiment. Gallaudet students Jamie Hardman and Zack Ennis (ph). Robert gives each one a little GoPro video camera …

SIRVAGE

00:02:40
Put that on, the head-mounted camera.

SHEIR

00:02:42
… which captures a 170-degree span of vision.

SIRVAGE

00:02:46
As compared to a normal camera, which typically has only about a 35-degree angle.

SHEIR

00:02:51
He then asks the pair to start talking as they walk down H Street.

SIRVAGE

00:02:54
And I'm gonna have you just keep on going until you get the Liberty Tree restaurant. I'll meet you there. You just go ahead and start walking.

SHEIR

00:03:01
And as Jamie and Zack walk and talk, Robert will test how often they experience what he calls …

SIRVAGE

00:03:07
Visual convergence.

SHEIR

00:03:09
In other words, how often Jamie has Zack in her visual field and vice versa. Sign-language users require a ton of visual convergence since they use their hands, faces and bodies to convey meaning.

SHEIR

00:03:20
So I'm assuming then if you were testing hearing people walking in dyads like this, they're probably wouldn't be as much visual convergence.

SHEIR

00:03:27
That's true. And that was exactly the result that the data showed.

SHEIR

00:03:30
Because after all, if your language is verbal and auditory, you don't require as much eye contact. I mean I could be standing behind you or in front of you and you'd still hear me talking, but if you're language is more kinetic and visual, like sign language is, then you do need that visual convergence. Get this though, as Jamie and Zack take off down the street in front of me and Robert …

SIRVAGE

00:03:50
Oh, we'd better speed up a little bit. You can see they're going much faster than us. We'll have to catch up.

SHEIR

00:03:55
We both observe a pretty interesting thing. Even though Zack and Jamie are maintaining a lot of visual convergence, they're not bumping into other pedestrians or lamp posts or anything like that. And once we get to the Liberty Tree restaurant …

SHEIR

00:04:08
We've reached our destination.

SIRVAGE

00:04:10
Yes. Just right over there on the corner.

SHEIR

00:04:12
… Jamie Hardman explains, through an interpreter, how she and Zack were able to do that.

MS. JAMIE HARDMAN

00:04:18
While I was talking, he was looking at me. And if I moved my eyes in any sense of a way that showed that there was a barrier or something, he immediately knew to look ahead and to check his environment.

SHEIR

00:04:30
So because of that visual convergence, deaf people are especially attuned to all sorts of cues from their conversational partner. As Robert Sirvage shares his data with me, all sorts of bar graphs and pie charts representing different conversational pairs, he says you should never underestimate the power of eye contact or, as we so often say, seeing eye to eye.

SIRVAGE

00:04:53
You do see here that these two right here, with these very small areas of visual convergence, they scored very lowly on that. In fact, they later divorced.

SHEIR

00:05:05
That's very telling.

SIRVAGE

00:05:06
You know, we don’t know if it really is predictive, but…

SHEIR

00:05:11
But the main question here, the main point is how can all of these findings be applied to something like urban planning?

SIRVAGE

00:05:18
When we think about what's required to build healthy community fabrics, we typically consider community places where people stop and stand or sit, but that's not true at all. We actually make varying connections as we navigate space. So it's important for us, then, to consider the fact that we have so many people here in D.C., for example, that commute. And that commute is one point wherein community fabric may be built into that process.

SHEIR

00:05:49
That's why Robert Sirvage advocates for such city elements as wider sidewalks, so deaf people can walk side by side, better lit metro stations, even more reflective surfaces on buildings so deaf people can, with a glance, see what's happening behind them. But no matter whether we're talking about buildings, sidewalks, train stations or the street, it's crucial, he says, that the framework of urban planning considers one specific thing.

SIRVAGE

00:06:14
Human dignity. And what does human dignity mean within that frame? We have to start with that philosophical question, what does the dignity of the human being mean in that context and then move on from there.

SHEIR

00:06:33
To see images and results from Robert Sirvage's peripatetic convergence research project visit our website metroconnection.org.
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