Communicating by Colour Code

Badges are those decorative accessories we collect at events, or plaster on our backpacks, lapels or satchels.

While often little more than a decorative pin, they can also play a crucial role in helping some of us to express our emotions and feelings in a given situation.

Around the world, badges have become a crucial tool for communication.

Our All Right? badges have been our most popular resource ever, and now they’re helping to open up new channels of communication here in New Zealand.

In the Disability Studies Quarterly article, Cultural Commentary: Being Autistic Together, Jim Sinclair identifies the role badges can play in helping people with autism to indicate their willingness or inability to communicate in a conference setting. 

People can use badges to “indicate whether they wish to be left alone, are open to interaction with familiar people but not with strangers, or are having trouble initiating interaction and would like someone else to approach them and initiate,” the report states.

Here on home turf, the Science Communicator’s Association of New Zealand 2018 conference recently put this concept into practice, thanks to the initiative of attendee Dr Susan Rapley.

All Right? badges were used in a traffic light system, with all attendees encouraged to take part if they thought the badge would benefit them. 

·      Green: Go – Hi! Let’s Chat

·      Orange: Slow please – I’d prefer to only chat now if we’ve met previously

·      Red: Stop – Not able to interact currently

The team at SCANZ also added in a “blue light”, which indicated you would like to chat to people but weren’t sure where to start. 

As Dr Rapley says, this was a subtle way of asking for a little extra help, without having to explicitly ask that out loud.

“This was by far the most used badge, with some people kindly donating their blue badges to others who missed out,” says Dr Rapley.

“This straightforward system facilitated many people’s participation in the hectic one-day conference. It also encouraged respect of one’s own, and others needs for space, social comfort or social assistance. All without having to ask, or guess.”

Badge users were then able to connect over social media, by using a hashtag.

Dr Rapley says everyone, including herself, struggles sometimes to control emotional reactions.

“We can also find difficulties in communicating what we would like others to do, or not do. In some cases of mental illness, psychological or neurological conditions, this is true almost all the time.”

Dr Rapley says being autistic means many different things and varies from one person to the next.

“For the purposes of a conference, workplace, or similar large social situations the only way I can describe it is that my insides don’t match my outsides,” she says.

“Body and facial cues that most people use to express themselves non-verbally vary from what’s typical when expressed by me. I also have difficulty reading and understanding these cues from others. How my body needs to move or be in social spaces may also mismatch with social expectations.”

Dr Rapley says this can culminate into a high degree of stress and lead to miscommunications and false assumptions.

The use of badges help alleviate those stresses and increase accessibility to such events.