BFA Thesis: deaf to Deaf

AIGA Honolulu Top 5 Design Award
AIGA Honolulu Top 3 Student Design Award

This project began as an exploration of graphic design and American Sign Language (ASL) as visual languages for my BFA Thesis at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Through research and interviews, one of the surprising things I learned was the distinction between ‘deaf’ vs ‘Deaf’. The former refers to the infirmity, while the latter defines the identity and culture defined by hearing impaired individuals. The title was thus chosen as ‘deaf to Deaf’ to reference the general public’s ignorance to the triumphs and challenges faced by the Deaf subculture.

Two identical books were hand-bound using french-folded pages. The surface pages contain quotes encoded in American sign language (ASL) about communication, language and the acquisition of symbolic reasoning, or general stereotypes dealing with deaf individuals; when the reader peaks beneath the surface by opening the french folded pages, however, an insightful truth is revealed about Deaf culture. Inserted between these french-folded pages, are folded vellum sheets that, when the user uses their hands to unfold, decodes the encoded sign language message. I wanted readers to experience having to use their hands to decode messages, just as signing individuals are required.

In the thesis exhibition space, both books were displayed on with a mirror as a backdrop. I used a mirror because I wanted readers of the books to be aware of the public’s gaze, watching them as the readers used their hands to navigate the books; I wanted to convey the feeling of self consciousness felt by hearing impaired individuals when they use their hands to communicate via this visual, spatial language.

When the book is opened, the photograph of hands on the front and back cover communicate the sign for ‘book’ in ASL.