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Hiding Humanity: Verbal and Visual Ethics in Accident Reports

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Abstract:

This article identifies how the reporting of human injuries and fatalities in accident reports often strips victims of their humanity and hides the tragic human consequences of technological failures from individuals trying to devise appropriate public policy, establish effective safety regulations, and modify or abolish dangerous industrial processes—government officials, company executives, labor representatives, community activists, and ordinary citizens. To illustrate this point, we review a series of accident reports, focusing on their use of illustrations. We look especially at accident reports of the National Transportation Safety Board, both because of their variety (for example, highway, aviation, pipeline, railroad) as well as their availability as public domain materials. We propose several techniques to humanize accident reports and discuss the legal and ethical implications of such efforts, especially the delicate issue of balancing the objective of making victims visible versus the danger of violating their privacy in the process.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2003

More about this publication?
  • Technical Communication, the Society's journal, publishes articles about the practical application of technical communication theory and serves as a common arena for discussion by practitioners. Technical Communication includes both quantitative and qualitative research while showcasing the work of some of the field's most noteworthy writers. Among its most popular features are the helpful book reviews. Technical Communication is published quarterly and is free with membership.
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