Friday, February 27, 2009

The Problem With Warning Signs

Believe it or not, warning signs play a very crucial and important part in our daily lives. We put them up when we need to warn others of pending danger or perils, and we also depend on them to tell us when we need to be aware of something that could potentially harm or hurt us. 99.9% of the time, these signs are very easy to see because they are constructed using extremely bright and garish colors and are almost always strategically placed so that they are easy to spot. However, there is one huge factor that most of the sighted world still seems to miss: Warning signs don't talk. Allow me to explain why this is an issue by giving you a real-life example.

A few weeks ago when I stepped out of my condominium to walk to the elevator, I was greeted by a strong smell of paint. I immediately knew that the workmen were painting close by, but what I did not know was precisely where. I decided to be super careful as I walked but soon ran into trouble when my jacket came in contact with wet paint on the wall close to my door. Before I knew it, the sleeve of my jacket was covered with paint.

When I went to the management office to ask that in future they let me know when and where they would be painting, their response was, "Well, did you not see the wet paint sign tacked onto your door?" When I told them that I did not because I am blind, they replied, "Maybe you should simply be more careful whenever you smell paint."

This interaction totally frustrated me, as it is only one in a long line of such incidents throughout my life. Before leaving the office I told them that maybe in the future they should try to develop a sign that would talk to me instead and would let me know what I needed to. Unfortunately, this did not go over very well and a few days later I returned to the office to have a chat with the management team to try to enlighten them about such matters.

The lesson here is that it accomplishes nothing for me to be sarcastic to the staff at the management office or any of the myriad places where obstacles – both literal and figurative -- occur. Instead, I need to find ways to help them to understand why it is important for them to ensure that warning signs are communicated to all tenants, both mainstream as well as those with special needs. Working with them to find a solution is what is best for all concerned.

I was able to convince them that they need to communicate with all of the condominium dwellers whenever they are putting up warning signs because doing this will not only benefit me, it will also benefit those who are unable to read easily due to an age- or medical-related disability.

There are millions of persons in our world who are unable to read for various reasons, and they are classified as "print disabled." Warning signs are of great value if you can see them, but for those of us who are either unable to see or read them, they become literally useless and more of a hazard if we end up bumping into them and injuring ourselves. It is time for the rest of the world, starting with those around us, to be educated. These are issues the sighted world has never considered, so it is my mission to start the process, and I'm delighted to do so. If we all keep the sighted and special-needs communities in mind as we go through our daily lives, it will help more people than we can imagine.

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