One of the major projects I’m working on right now is for a wonderful non-profit called Amend. Amend’s work addresses the issue of child roadside injury in the developing world, with a focus on Ghana. Few people realize the severity of this problem, which is the number one cause of death and disability for children aged 5-21 in Africa.
When I recite the above statistic, people are usually taken aback. For a crisis this severe, we hear almost nothing about it on a daily basis. Roadside injury is a silent epidemic. So why does the problem exist, and what can be done to fix it?
The potential for roadside injury exists wherever pedestrians and motorists are required to share the same roads. The problem is minimized by good infrastructure (lights, signs, bike lanes, sidewalks, marked crossings) and by good behaviors on the parts of both motorists and pedestrians. The problem is exacerbated in the developing world because economic development is rapid and often comes without the necessary infrastructure and time to adapt to new behaviors.
Roads are often of poor quality, rarely paved and frequently full of potholes. The rule of the road is that the biggest entity has the right of way, a rule that is enforced by honking and aggressive driving behavior. Crossings are rarely present, even in cities. (Anyone who has tried to cross a street in central Saigon will know what I mean.) Streetlights and reflective signage are minimal.
At the same time, people use the roads for everything, and pedestrians have no designated spaces to travel. Children are particularly vulnerable because their size makes them less visible to drivers and because they often have to travel long distances to school.
Amend works on a number of fronts to address the problem, and a major part of their effort involves cultivating good behaviors in children with their “Be Seen, Be Safe” program in schools. Amend works in the schools to train kids on roadside safety, teaching lessons through songs and with printed materials. Amend also distributes reflective wristbands to the kids to wear, both as a reminder of the lesson and a way to make themselves more visible to drivers.
We know from other countries that reflectors work to reduce the incidence of roadside injury, but they have to be worn consistently and they have to be visible in the right places. Which is where I come in. I got involved with Amend a little over a year ago, through my friend Peter who had seen my design for LED backpack badges in my portfolio. I had designed those with the thought that they might be a good supplement to reflective strips on backpacks by providing light in the dusk hours when most drivers have yet to turn on their headlights and many kids are on the roads coming home from school. Peter shared that idea with Jeffrey, the founder of Amend, and when we all met he shared with me that he had been looking to redesign the reflectors to increase compliance and visibility.
When I started the MID program at Pratt last year, I gathered a group of classmates and we began working on a new design. It’s been a real learning experience so far. We put together a list of tons of questions and have been working with the Ghanaian Amend team to understand the context we’re working within: Ghanaian lifestyle, culture, and environment. We had a big ideation session, collecting tons of ideas for ways to address the problem that go far beyond reflectors. At the moment, we’re working on about 30 concept ideas for everything from backpacks to clothes to accessories, which we will present to Jeffrey in just over a week. The team has worked really hard and it’s super-exciting to watch it all come together. I’ll post some selections soon.