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Deaf child can't hear cars--or the arguments over a sign to protect her.

September 03, 1987|MARY BARBER | Times Staff Writer

A sign near Gina Skinner's home warns motorists to drive slowly because a deaf child might be nearby.

Although the sign cost the City of Duarte less than $100 and no one has complained since it was posted in July, arguments for and against it divided both the Traffic and Safety Commission and the City Council for several months. Some city officials still question its effectiveness.

But Mitchell and Mary Jo Skinner are convinced that the sign is needed because of their 26-month-old daughter's handicap.

Gina, whose deafness may have resulted from her premature birth, has reached the adventurous age, her mother said.

Mary Jo Skinner said their yard on Park Rose Avenue is enclosed by a five-foot chain-link fence, and the gate is supposed to be always closed. However, she said, the Skinners' 4-year-old son, Joshua, and foster child, Valerie, sometimes forget and leave the gate open. Gina, meanwhile, is into fence climbing.

"The gate has to be shut. That's drilled into their heads 500 times a day," Skinner said. "We are not lenient. But children forget, especially those who come over to play." And Gina, she said, is quick and lively and unaware of the dangers of traffic.

The Skinner home is on a cul-de-sac in a residential area at Duarte's southern tip, several blocks from any major street. Even so, Skinner said, drivers enter the cul-de-sac thinking it is a through-street and have to turn around to leave.

The Duarte Traffic and Safety Commission voted 3 to 2 against the special sign when the Skinners asked for it this year. Instead, the commission recommended posting a sign identifying Park Rose as a dead-end street.

The Skinners took their plea to the City Council because they had seen another sign warning motorists about a deaf child. That one, in Baldwin Park, was granted to Cheryl Rodrigo several years ago.

The council approved the sign 3 to 2 after discussing it several times.

Nasser Abbaszadeh, deputy city engineer, said the California Vehicle Code states that only signs approved by the state Department of Transportation may be posted. While Caltrans does not approve signs identifying specific handicaps, Abbaszadeh said, a separate--and seldom noticed--section in the Vehicle Code permits signs that say "Slow--Deaf Child."

"There's nothing about 'blind' or any other handicap," Abbaszadeh said.

Traffic specialists believe that signs should warn drivers of existing or potentially hazardous conditions and should be used primarily to expedite traffic, Abbaszadeh said. The trend, he added, is to have as few signs as possible and to avoid those that may distract drivers.

Abbaszadeh said surveys show that "older drivers tend to disregard signs, while speed signs are ignored by all but 5% of drivers, even though they could be ticketed."

Several city officials said a special sign would do little to protect Gina and might even have the opposite effect by giving the Skinners a false sense of security.

"At the same time, we want to know, 'How come you can't put a lock on your gate to protect your child?' " Abbaszadeh said. "Some (city officials) said that instead of trying to adapt the world to this child's needs, the child should be trained to adapt to the world."

"They said a lot of things we didn't agree with," Skinner said. The gate, she said, is unlocked so that other children can come and go as they wish.

"A lot of people talk to us about the sign," she said. "Neighbors say they see it and it makes them think. It's a precautionary measure, and we're still going to keep the gate closed."

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