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March 21, 2005

Architects Design Town for the Deaf

From: Scotland on Sunday, UK - Mar 21, 2005

By Victoria Ward, PA, in New York

Architects and town planners will today begin drawing up blueprints for the first town built entirely for the deaf in the United States.

Almost 100 families, from London to Australia, have reserved space in the South Dakota village, where all business will be conducted in sign language.

Future residents hope to become fully integrated in day-to-day life for the first time, with every element designed specifically for the deaf or hard of hearing.

Buildings will incorporate glass for increased visibility, emergency services will rely on lights as opposed to sirens, while shops, restaurants, petrol stations, hotels and schools will be required to use sign language.

Marvin Miller, the 33-year-old behind the plan, hopes building work will begin later this year.

"Society isn't doing that great a job of, quote-unquote, integrating us," Mr Miller, who is deaf, told the New York Times.

"My children don't see role models in their lives – mayors, factory managers, postal workers, business owners. So we're setting up a place to show our unique culture, our unique society."

Creators insist the town will not be exclusive but simply inclusive for those who cannot communicate through speech.

It will not be the sole reserve of the deaf. The only commitment asked by those intending to move there, is that they live in an environment based on sight and American Sign Language as opposed to speech.

But while advocates claim the town will give them a new lease of life, opponents fear it will only serve to further isolate the deaf community.

Todd Houston, director of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Washington, claimed it was of greater benefit for the deaf to play a part in the rest of society.

"I understand the desire to be around people like ourselves, and I don't have a problem with that, but I don't think it's very wise," he said.

"This is a little bit of circling-the-wagons mentality, if you ask me."

The village will be called Laurent after Laurent Clerc, a French educator of the deaf from the 1800's. It will accommodate at least 2,500 residents and is being financed through family money and a group of anonymous investors.

The 92 families who have already reserved spaces will be expected to put down deposits for property within the next few months.