You are here: Home Read My Articles Art Writing Groundbreaking Taxi Hand Sign Book for Blind Commuters

Groundbreaking Taxi Hand Sign Book for Blind Commuters


at Museum Africa, 121, Bree Street, Newtown on September 30, 2009,  From 3.30 to 6. 

South Africa has eleven official languages but in reality, there are twelve. Part of the twelfth language is Sign Language. The inspirational artist, Susan Woolf: MATHABO is launching a Taxi hand sign book for blind taxi commuters. 

During the course of researching Taxi hand signs and compiling a booklet of these signs and destinations, Woolf discovered the need to produce something directed specifically for blind commuters. The conceptual artist came up with the 14 tactile shapes that make up the hand signs needed to communicate a destination to taxi drivers. Many blind people might not even be aware that others are using hand signs to signal their direction to taxi drivers. The signs allows blind commuters to tap into this non-verbal form of communication. The end result is a book in braille  that includes the innovative shapes that combine  to form the Taxi hand signs. This will be followed in 2010 with a small pocket size booklet with coloured gloved taxi hand signs for everyone in South Africa including tourists. The book will be updated each year whilst the research for the investigation is on going.

The artwork on the Taxi Signs will also be used as one of the themes for the South African National Stamp, 2010. The designs will include the tactile symbols for blind commuters. A process called thermography, which raises the shapes on the stamps will be a first for South Africa, enabling blind people to interpret the signs. The development of the blind commuter’s book will take on an educational component in 2010 via workshops with teachers and visually impaired students. These workshops will coincide with commemorative stamps issued by the South African Post Office in January 2010.  Woolf is also using the subject as the basis for PhD thesis in Anthropology and Art at Wits University.

Woolf began her research three years ago.

The Taxi Hand Sign Booklet, first published in May 2007, was a record for the main libraries in South Africa.  Taxi hand signs are used on a daily basis by millions of South Africa’s taxi commuters to indicate the destination of their choice. Commuters of a multitude of different language groups cultures and creeds, across townships and cities use Taxi hand signs. An innovative, rapidly evolving and unofficial language, Taxi hand signs have become the logical, silent gesture of the commuter. Says Woolf of what sparked her interest: "I used to drive around and look at people waiting for the taxis and wonder how the signs came about and how people know what sign to use when. Then when I started my research, I found that not everybody knew the range of taxi hand signs that are necessary to get everywhere in the city.” 

The launch of the of the blind version of the Taxi Hand Sign Book takes place at Museum Africa in Newtown, Johannesburg on Wednesday 30th September at 4pm. Natalie Knight, curator of the Maria Stein–Lessing exhibition at Museum Africa, views this project as an ideal extension of late Leopold Spiegel’s vision for the disabled, and a perfect platform to create more awareness around the needs and education of the blind community. Blind S.A. will facilitate distribution of the book within Johannesburg.  

Event sponsors include SA National Council for the Blind, Blind SA, Infama, The Estate of the late Leopold Spiegel and SA Taxi Finance, who will also be collecting blind students from various points to visit the exhibition, notably transported in taxis. The booklet may be a guide and a reference for the taxi commuting public, but Woolf adds: "This is not just for locals, but also for visitors to our country for 2010 and beyond."

Art can be used as a powerful means of communication. When involving interventionist community projects it can be used as a catalyst to promote positivity and for people to learn about each other. Woolf clarifies that her art consistently addresses broad social issues, stating; “I don’t see my art as being a separate thing; rather, it’s about the alternative way that one understands, analyses and communicates. A Fine Artist who has had numerous solo art exhibitions nationally and abroad, Woolf is renowned for her conceptual and three dimensional art, which includes a kinetic Mobile City for Absa Bank, in collaboration with two architects. Woolf's work, Towards Mandela and Witness, Shadow of UBUNTU sculpture design for an outdoor installation was included in the Madiba at 90 exhibition at Constitution Hill. This latest Taxi hand sign arts project is something which has never been done before.

For more information, contact Susan Woolf. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   /


Contact Lana @ The Writer Studio

Get in touch if you would like Lana to write for your business or publication