Eagle Scout project makes zoo more inclusive to those with disabilities

Photo courtesy of the White family

When Noah White became aware that there was a lack of inclusion for people with disabilities in some public venues within his community, it hit different. Noah, from Troop 107 in Cincinnati, has a sister who has Down syndrome and is hard of hearing.

For his Eagle Scout service project, Noah came up with the idea to install a sign at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden — a place he visited frequently — that would make it easier for visitors of different abilities to enjoy the exhibits.

Noah, who took an American Sign Language class in school, wanted to include information on his sign in ASL and a handful of foreign languages. And he wanted to include a section that used the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), an alternative communication system designed for people with cognitive, physical and communication challenges.

“I noticed that animal exhibits did not have any forms of communication on them aside from English,” Noah says. “A sign was the perfect way to place these forms of communication because it offers a space for colors and multiple communication methods to be displayed in one spot.”

As the project progressed, the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired hopped on board and offered to add Braille.

Encouraging an interest in learning

The finished project was installed in the children’s playground area with text that reads, “This sign aims to foster inclusivity by providing translations that aid communication and understanding between our visitors.”

Noah worked with representatives from the zoo to make sure his sign fit in with the zoo’s current style.

The sign lists six “playground phrases” along with translations for each.

“Designing the sign layout did take some time to configure, but we settled on a comic strip-style so we could show all of the different ways to say the same word in a table,” says Noah.

Underneath the word “slide,” for example, is the word in Braille, a PECS illustration of a child going down a slide, an illustration of someone communicating the word in ASL, and translations of the word in French, German and Spanish.

“Each of these words are tied to the different ways people communicate,” says Noah. “I hope it encourages interest in learning the various ways people communicate. Even though we may communicate differently, we are still the same.”

Noah discusses his sign with Greg Hanson, the zoo’s graphic manager. Photo courtesy of the White family

Looking ahead

It was important to Noah that he get everything right on his sign, so he enlisted help from teachers at his school, from people who are blind or deaf and from people who have experience with PECS.

Very few Eagle Scout service projects go off without a hitch. Noah’s was slowed by the coronavirus pandemic. It took him around two years to get it all done.

The good news is, he raised more money than he needed for just the one sign, so he’s working with the zoo on installing more.

“I felt ecstatic when the project was done,” Noah says, “and I’m going to work with the zoo to install more signage.”

About Aaron Derr 221 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.