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. 10/05/2009 11:24 PM Eastern

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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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.

Grade-A Classrooms

Architectural negotiations were just part of what made planning the project a challenge. In addition to installing the AV equipment, the consultant and integrator had to learn how the deaf communicate, how to best design around their needs, and how to easily convey requirements and solutions between the client and the AV design team.

Regular meetings were held among Dr. Cynthia King, dean of the Academic Technology, Library, and Archive Services (ATLAS); Jim Dellon, manager of special projects for Gallaudet; and members of the PPI team. As systems went in, there were training sessions for instructors who'd been chosen to train the teachers and staff on the new equipment. Because trainees were deaf or hard of hearing, the team used American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate.

"We had [ASL] interpreters," Wingfield explains. "Two per meeting. One would stop in about 20 minutes and the other would take over."

Because there are no signs for many of the AV technical terms that the group discussed, interpreters had to spell out much of what was said, which was tiring. "The hardest part was trying to instruct something, and saying it without extra words. You had to be very direct," Wingfield says. At times, he resorted to using one of the several 94-inch Smart Board 690 electronic white boards that had been installed in some of the classrooms.

There are nine small- to medium-sized classrooms in the SLCC, as well as two teleconference rooms, four labs, a dividable meeting room, and an assistive listening room that were all part of PPI's AV installation.

Each of the larger classrooms is equipped with a Panasonic PTDW5100U 5,500-lumen WXGA DLP projector, while the smaller rooms have Panasonic PTFW100NTU 3,000-lumen portable projectors. Also in each room are three Vaddio Model 70 PTZ camera kits–one camera facing each side of the semicircle of desks, and one facing the teacher. Students use Vaddio TouchView wireless remotes to control the cameras, while one or more Sharp LC20S7U 20-inch Aquos LCD flat-panel TVs display what the camera is recording.

"The teacher asks a question of that person, who pushes a button and recalls a preset for that particular table," Wingfield explains. "So it'll zoom in on the two people so they can do their signing, and that's sent to a stenographer." The setup is mostly used for archiving purposes, but it does have live streaming capabilities, and the transcript of each discussion or presentation is posted on a university webpage.

The two teleconference rooms use Polycom VSX 8000 systems for videoconferencing, along with the requisite Vaddio PTZ cameras and Sharp Aquos displays, plus two Sharp PN525U 52-inch 1920x1080 LCD monitors to display the far side of the teleconference and any additional content being shared. Lining the hallway outside the rooms are several bays of video phones, courtesy of Sorenson.

Upstairs, a meeting space called the Collaboration Room can be opened into one large room or divided into two rooms. One half uses a Crestron AV2 dual-bus control, while the other side utilizes Extron's MLC 226 IP MediaLink contoller.

All of the SLCC's rooms include a Media Manager Lectern V2 or Media Director Lectern V2 from Spectrum Industries, placed off to the side where it won't obstruct views of the instructor. Integrated into the lectern is a Revolabs wireless Solo Desktop

System with Solo lapel or lanyard mics. Wingfield had recently used the company's wireless system in another project and was pleased with its performance.

"No interference. You can pull any one out of the chargers and within two seconds they lock right up," he says. "I'm so used to wired microphones, and this technology is unbelievable."

Audial Aid

Despite serving many deaf students, the audio systems at the SLCC play an important role. Every classroom has Ampetronic-brand audio loop amplifiers running through the floor or ceiling for students who are hard of hearing, allowing them to adjust the frequency of their personal assistive listening devices. "These are induction loops," Bailey points out. "[The school] did not want infrared or RF assistive listening."

Bailey explains that IR or RF loops require hard-of-hearing people to sit in a specific area to receive the benefits of the system, singling out those in the classroom who can hear and those who are deaf. With an inductive loop system, students can discreetly switch their devices to the telephone-coil, or T-coil, setting to hear the audio within the classroom. To prevent the audio from spilling into neighboring rooms, Randallstown, Md.-based Arc Light Entertainment, which installed the system, also put in a counterinductor.

"These are phased arrays, which means that the magnetic field or the induction stays within your room," Bailey adds. "It doesn't leak out. You walk out that door, the sound goes away." The same loops were also installed in the semicircular bench in the atrium to complement the space's nine Tannoy CMS601 PI in-ceiling speakers.

Loudspeakers are installed throughout the building, but are barely noticeable. The spaces consist mainly of Tannoy CMS65 ICT 6.5-inch in-ceiling speakers. "These speakers are fairly small. They didn't want anything to stand out," Bailey says. Also included with the sound system are Biamp Nexia PM presentation mixers, Crown PZM11 microphones and CTS4200A four-channel amplifiers, and Innovox SF204 program speakers.

The Assistive Listening Center, where students learn how to use their assistive listening devices, was the only room in the building speced with subwoofers. "We put the Tannoy subs in there [because] for some of the audio devices, you had to hear the low frequencies," says Wingfield.

While the two-year-long project required a lot of meetings, cooperation, and a unique learning curve for the consultants and integrators, Bailey and Wingfield are proud for having worked on the center. "It was a partnership, that's the key," Wingfield says. "The whole thing was a very coordinated effort," adds Bailey. "This project was wonderful in that respect."

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