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First town for deaf takes shape

Architects and town planners have begun drawing up a blueprint for the first town built and designed entirely for deaf people.

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

Potential 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 designed by specialist architects with the needs of the deaf a priority. All businesses will be required to use sign language.

The village - called Laurent after Laurent Clerc, a 19th-century French educator of the deaf - will accommodate at least 2,500 residents and is being financed privately, including funding from a group of anonymous investors.

Marvin Miller, the 33-year-old behind the plan, who is himself deaf, hopes building work will begin later this year. 'Society isn't doing that great a job of, quote-unquote, integrating us, ' Miller said.

'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. The only commitment for those intending to move there is that they live in an environment based solely on sign language.

But opponents have warned that the town will only serve to further isolate the deaf.

Todd Houston, director of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, 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. This is a little bit of circling-the-wagons mentality, if you ask me, ' he said.

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