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Sign Waves

At Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., a university for the deaf and hard of hearing, advanced AV technology isn't just an important part of the education process?it's a way of life.

Credit: Peter Krogh

CHALLENGE: Design and install AV systems for the deaf and hard of hearing and train instructors on its use.

SOLUTION: Utilize video cameras, induction loops, and white boards for optimal communication.

At Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., advanced technology isn't just an important part of the education process–it's a way of life. Gallaudet is a university for the deaf and hard of hearing that offers more than 40 undergraduate degrees, as well as graduate degrees for deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing students.

An inductive loop system was installed in the Sorenson Language and Communications Center' s atrium bench to assist hard of hearing students.

One of the school's–and the deaf community's–most helpful communication devices has been the mass-market video phone, which was developed by business leader and entrepreneur James Lee Sorenson, an advocate for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Several years ago, in the spirit of that advocacy, Sorenson donated the seed money to begin development of the James Lee Sorenson Language and Communications Center (SLCC) on the Gallaudet campus, an inclusive learning environment compatible with the deaf culture community. As was the case with the video phone, AV systems would become a major factor in the center's success.

Communication Lessons

Near the beginning of the project in 2006, architecture firm SmithGroup called on principal AV design consultant Don Bailey of Rockville, Md.-based Technology Design Resources to help with the schematics. In 2008, Bailey hired Professional Products Inc. (PPI) of Gaithersburg, Md., to integrate the building's AV systems.

"We were coming in after the architectural design had already been done, which caused its own problems," says David Wingfield, lead design engineer for PPI. "Lights were hanging down in front of the projectors. Same old, same old."

It was important to the client from the beginning that everything in the building be designed with an eye toward light, open spaces, and very specific seating arrangements. High visibility and semicircle seating was paramount so students and teachers could see each other signing.

The center's main atrium is adorned with glass and windows, and there are few physical obstructions. The windows create an abundance of ambient light, so Bailey and PPI went with a Panasonic PTDW10000U HD 10,000-ANSI lumen, 16:9 projector and a Draper QRPX rear-projection system with Mirror Manager. Given the luminous environment, Wingfield admits, "Even with 10,000 lumens, it could be brighter. That was a cost compromise."

Two Sony BRCZ700 HD PTZ color video cameras aimed at a small stage in front of the atrium's projection screen feed directly to the university's own production studio, located behind the screen wall. Students and staff can record important presentations, and then broadcast the feed campuswide using EchoSystem video streaming from Echo360.

The SLCC features touchscreen digital signage.

The SLCC features touchscreen digital signage.

Credit: Peter Krogh

Near each elevator in the three-story building is a Sharp PN465U 46-inch full-color large-format 1920x1080 LCD monitor with a Display Werks 4650-TU-PN465U-2S touchscreen overlay for university-run digital signage. The digital signage program, developed by Academic Technology, Gallaudet's IT department, features video, weather updates, a faculty directory, and an interactive map. The signal runs on UTP Cat-5 cables to a computer server in a nearby rackroom. Supporting the three-screen system are five Extron VTT001 VT-VGA twisted-pair transmitters and five VTR001 VT-VGA twisted-pair receivers for RGBHV, five Gefen USB 2.0 extenders, and five SurgeX SA82 power conditioners.

Each monitor was designed to sit flush against the wall, but a miscommunication with the architect resulted in the screens standing out from the wall. The mistake offered a silver lining, though: The bump-out allows monitors to swing out easily for maintenance.

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