Four in Five Seniors Find This Road Sign Ageist
Last updated 1/4/2024 at 10:59pm | View PDF
Since the controversial "elderly people" road sign, designed by a child in a drawing competition, was introduced over 40 years ago, it has repeatedly come under attack for its ageist imagery depicting a physically challenged couple bent over walking sticks.
The Silver Marketing Association, based in the U.K., which campaigns for ethical and respectful marketing for older people, carried out a survey of 55 to 80-year-olds in partnership with older people's campaigning group EngAgeNet, and the findings show that the sign is seen as both ageist and offensive by a large majority of respondents.
The association is now asking the U.K. Government and local authorities for the sign to be re-designed or removed entirely.
"The time has come to get this discriminatory image off our roads, and to realign the stereotyped, ageist image of the UK's older generation," said Debbie Marshall, association managing director. "We recognize that older people may be slower to walk across the road than youngsters, but they are not some kind of a roadside hazard, and the picture on the sign does not reflect the respect that we should have for our elders."
In partnership with EngAgeNet, the Silver Marketing Association survey asked more than 400 representatives from older people's forums across the country for their views of the wording and imagery used on the sign, and if they feel it best reflects their place in society. Over half (53%) considered the image "very ageist" and a further 26% felt it to be "ageist," while 70% found it "offensive."
Respondents were also asked their view of the wording and 64% found this ageist and 67% found it offensive. When asked what alternative they would prefer, 69% voted for an age-neutral image, and 72% voted for age-neutral wording.
"I have always hated that sign, even when I was younger and a driver," said 89-year-old Betty Stoakley, a resident at a Dorset Care Home. "It makes some kind of a bad joke about old age. Its very existence separates older people from the rest of society.
"I am also delighted that we, the older generation, have been asked for our opinions," she continued. "Older adults in the U.K. are too often overlooked, yet we have decades of life experience.
"I prefer the use of the word senior to replace elderly," said Ellen Coughlin of Hampshire "'Senior' is a respectful way of describing an older person, 'elderly' is not."
Another respondent, Philippa Russell of Chichester, commented, "Traffic travels so fast nowadays and it's not only about age – it's just as bad if you have a small child or you are a disabled person trying to cross safely. I would like big, bold signs with a catchy image that there are likely to be people crossing and telling motorists to slow down."
"It's high time we rethink the symbols and icons commonly used in public to represent ageing and older age groups," commented Jess Kuehne, senior program manager of ageism at the Centre for Ageing Better. "So often these images reinforce negative and narrow views about ageing and growing older, attitudes which research shows can have a damaging effect on the way we view and treat ourselves and others."
"This sign has been a bone of contention for many older people for years and many organizations and individuals have spoken out about it... but absolutely nothing has been done," said Tony Watts at EngAgeNet. "At a time when society has recognized the need to respect minorities by changing negative or demeaning language or imagery, it's stunning that no-one can see that ageism is also a big issue.
"We want the Department of Transport to change this discriminatory sign and language and to substitute it with one which is age-neutral," he continued. "Of course, motorists need to be aware if there is a crossing near a care home where residents may have limited mobility. However, the current sign is ageist and discriminatory and needs to go.
"We surely cannot go another 41 years depicting our valued older generation in this way."