Driving in Canada is not difficult once you have mastered some aspects of directional signage. Having just returned from travelling Nova Scotia’s relatively deserted roads for just under two weeks, it was a culture shock today to edge out even into non rush-hour traffic here in southwest London. Add to this the sudden recall that your own car is not an automatic as you stop with a stall.
I fear, readers, that you are in for a bunch of Canadian themed blogs over the next two or three weeks and it’s a series of road signs that grabbed my attention this week. Approaching isolated houses along the highway we saw several yellow diamond shaped signs warning of the presence of a visually or hearing impaired child. No warning to go slow or take care, simply a statement presumably about the fact that a child with a disability lives nearby. These yellow diamonds were permanently mounted on metal posts and had a uniform municipal font, so clearly weren’t put up by anxious parents themselves. We have disabled parking bays marked on our roads, and warnings about driving slow near schools but generally nothing that tells us about the presence of a disabled child at a particular address or identifying a particular disability.
I wasn’t sure what to make of the signs, and of course had no chance without being really intrusive, to ask families and the children themselves what they thought of the signs, their purpose and effectiveness. A characteristic of strung out Canadian villages is that there are rarely fences between properties and no gates on the gravel tracks that lead to them, so a warning that a child whose senses may be impaired lives around the corner and who may suddenly rush out into the road may be a very helpful protective measure. But able bodied children with all their senses are perhaps just as likely to run into the road chasing a ball or one another.
I think it was the overt drawing attention to the close presence of a vulnerable child that I found a bit worrying. We know that groomers target families that are themselves vulnerable and that disabled children are particularly at risk of abuse often because of their relative inability to tell a trusted adult what is happening to them. I have a dreadful image of my own road, where a special educational needs school transport bus stops twice each day, bedecked with signs telling the world that disabled children live at these addresses. Match this with a picture of predatory potential abusers cruising the streets on the look out for yellow signs and you begin to think the risks of harm outweigh the protective measures intended by the signs.
But is this just my safeguarding mind set going into overdrive and looking for issues that aren’t really there?