American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections Winter 2019 PERSPECTIVES
by Carlton Anne Cook Walker
From the Editor: A few years ago, parents on the NFB’s Blindkid listserv engaged in a heated discussion about the warning signs that sometimes are posted near a blind child's home or school. These signs are meant to inform drivers that a blind child may be at play in the vicinity, in the hope that drivers will use a bit of extra caution. Some parents argued that such signs reinforce low expectations for blind children, while others insisted passionately that such warning signs could mean the difference between life and death. In this article Carlton Anne Cook Walker shares her thoughts on this controversial topic. Carlton is a parent, an attorney, and a teacher of blind students. At the 2018 NFB convention she was elected president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC).
I preface my thoughts about "Blind Child at Play" signs by recognizing that parents have the best information about their children. For this reason, parents have the unfettered right to make decisions regarding their children's safety.
A number of years ago I believed that a "Blind Child at Play" sign would help keep my blind daughter safe. Over the years, however, my thinking about this issue has changed. I no longer feel that such a sign would have benefited my daughter. Here are some of my reasons.
Many people believe that blindness, by itself, disables children so much that special, blindness-specific signs are needed to alert the world to their presence. At times this stance seems to be almost ubiquitous in the general public. However, those of us who know the abilities of blind people are fully aware that this thinking is flawed. Blindness, itself, is not what holds a child back from age-appropriate behavior.
Many children, blind and sighted, live with issues that might affect their behavior and judgment. Children with autism, sensory processing issues, intellectual disabilities, or ADHD may be at greater risk than others around traffic. But all children, whether or not they have disabilities, may at times be careless or impulsive. Kids dash into the street to chase a lost ball. They're too busy texting or talking to their friends to pay attention to traffic patterns. No matter how conscientious parents may be about rules and safety, children and teenagers can, and do, put themselves at risk.
Furthermore, research indicates that any "Child at Play" sign is, at best, ineffective, and that such signs may actually put children at greater risk. Drivers can experience "sign fatigue" and start to block out signage when too many signs are present. This inattention may actually transfer into all aspects of driving, and the driver may be less attentive to the presence of children in the area. In fact, municipalities in states including Kansas, New Hampshire, and Alaska have prohibited "at play" signs because research has not proved that the signs are effective.
Parents seeking "Blind Child at Play" signs should consider the very real risks of lowered expectations and social ostracism that can result from the installation of such signs. They also need to consider the body of evidence suggesting that such signs are not effective at protecting children from injury by motor vehicles.
If your family believes that a traffic warning sign would be helpful in your neighborhood, please consider a "Children at Play" sign instead of a blindness-specific sign. If an inclusive sign is posted, drivers may watch out for any and all children. In that way no one is singled out, and, if the sign is effective, everyone will be safer.
We used to live in a small town with a very major road running through the center. It ran past our church, past the school, and past many local businesses. Long before I ever moved there, and decades before my daughter was born, town leaders posted this sign on each edge of town: "WE HAVE PLENTY OF CHILDREN, BUT NONE TO SPARE." To me, this sign sums up the issue perfectly. Every one of our children is precious, and we want all of them to be safe, wherever they go.