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PHOTOVOICE Students Use Photography to Advocate for Safety

Olivia Graziano
August 6, 2015

In the neighborhood of Vickery Meadow, Dallas, middle schoolers are taking their cameras to the streets, capturing photos of downed power lines, blocked sidewalks, and litter-filled parks. These young photographers are participants in PHOTOVOICE, a project to improve pedestrian safety run by Parkland Health & Hospital System’s Injury Prevention Center of Greater Dallas (IPC).

A joint effort of Parkland’s IPC and the Vickery Meadow Youth Development Foundation, PHOTOVOICE is a five-week program that teaches students how to use photography to identify safety issues for pedestrians in their community and advocate for change.

Twice a week, students participating in PHOTOVOICE meet to learn about advocacy, pedestrian safety, and basic photography. Then, armed with cameras, the students venture out into their neighborhood to identify and photograph hazardous conditions that they face on their walk to school, including everything from damaged sidewalks to unsafe driving behaviors.

“We’re trying to make the community better for everyone—things like getting rid of trash from the sidewalks and making sure fire hydrants aren’t broken and that you can see the crosswalks,” said 12-year-old Khai Khan Kim. “There’s still a lot of things that need to be put in place to make it better.”

The IPC’s PHOTOVOICE program culminates with a reception and a display of the students’ photos at a local middle school. City officials, community leaders, and parents are invited to attend. The display spotlights pedestrian-related safety hazards, with the goal of initiating policy changes to prevent injuries and save lives.

IPC Improves Community Health, Safety

PHOTOVOICE is just one of the injury prevention projects that Parkland’s IPC has implemented since its inception in 1994. In 1991, the number of Dallas trauma patients was rising at a rate that would have soon overwhelmed local hospitals. The IPC was established by Parkland and other local leaders as part of an effort to combat the city’s growing number of trauma-related deaths and injuries.

Through collaboration with local businesses, government, schools, and others, the IPC executes programs, such as PHOTOVOICE, focused on safety education and injury prevention.

Through PHOTOVOICE, Parkland’s IPC has empowered Vickery Meadow students to improve the overall safety and health of their community. Students have seen their photos inspire real change, including the removal of a fallen wire from a sidewalk, the trimming of a tree blocking a stop sign, the cleaning of a park, and more.

PHOTOVOICE has also improved students’ knowledge of safe pedestrian practices. The program includes three tests that evaluate participating students’ knowledge of pedestrian and traffic safety rules. PHOTOVOICE’s five educational sessions produced a 28 percent increase in correct answers from the first to last test. “Through this project, students better recognize issues and concerns they have in their community regarding safety and safe routes to school,” said IPC director Shelli Stephens-Stidham.

Empowering Youth for Social Change

Vickery Meadow is one of Dallas’ most densely populated neighborhoods and is home to a large immigrant population. Along with promoting pedestrian safety, the IPC’s PHOTOVOICE program teaches students in this underprivileged neighborhood how to communicate with and participate in local government to effect change.

“The PHOTOVOICE project taught students from this highly diverse and low income neighborhood that they have both a voice and a responsibility to make needed changes for the community,” said Martha Stowe, executive director of the Vickery Meadow Youth Development Foundation. The IPC’s PHOTOVOICE project is part of the international PHOTOVOICE program, which focuses on empowering youth in poor communities through photography and advocacy.

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