It is sometimes easy to forget that the things we take for granted may be completely foreign to others. We had a recent, telling example of this at Employment Solutions for People with Disabilities, the non-profit in Pretoria at which Philipp, Nathalie and I are spending a month.
As part of its work for people with disabilities, Employment Solutions sponsors the Jacaranda Forum for Protective Workshops. The idea is twofold: first of all, to provide a venue for the workshops that employ disabled people in the greater Pretoria region to sell their products (the products are sold at one of the shops that Employment Solutions operates); and secondly, to act as a support group since many of the workshops often face the same issues as they market their products (typically handicrafts).
Megan Crous, who manages the Jacaranda Forum, brought in a toy made by one of the workshops. It was a helicopter made of galvanized wire. But the thing that caught our attention was the tag. Since it is sold in a shop and sometimes distributed to other retailers, Megan had suggested that the products be barcoded. (The Forum offers help with retail barcoding.) This particular person had put in a barcode – except the numbers were handwritten and the lines drawn by hand!
There you have it. Megan realized some of the people that Employment Solutions reaches out to didn’t really have experience with supermarkets or retail stores (where barcodes are used). They probably bought their groceries in small farmers markets and spaza shops. Barcodes – with their connotation of global retailing and a supply chain – were entirely foreign.