Is It Time for a New Disability Symbol?

Below is the current International Symbol of Access (ISA). It is a simple depiction of a person sitting in a wheelchair and is supposed to represent improved access for people with disabilities, particularly wheelchair users. The symbol is maintained as an international standard and thus can be found around the world. You probably come across the symbol all the time, for instance in public bathrooms, parking lots or public transportation.


The current symbol has been in use since 1968, but now many people are campaigning to change it. This movement to change the icon started in 2010, with a redesign of the current icon by Sara Hendren and Brian Glenney, who, through their redesign, aimed to represent people with disabilities in a different way.


blueiconTheir new symbol, as opposed to the old one, portrays people with disabilities as active persons, rather than passive, “handicapped” beings. The image below explains the creators’ choices behind the design.



The project is called The Accessible Icon Project and, as its creators explain on their website, “is an ongoing work in design activism.” At first, the creators simply used their design in a guerilla street art campaign, putting stickers of their design on top of signs depicting the International Symbol of Access around Boston. The aim of their project is to change the way people with disabilities are represented and to help change society’s perceptions of disability. They want people to really think about what concepts such as “ability” and “inclusion” actually mean.

Eventually, the designers released the logo into the public domain, meaning anyone is free to use it. The new logo has been gaining in popularity and has been adopted by many companies and public institutions worldwide. In 2013, the project was picked up by the Museum of Modern Art and is now featured in the museum’s permanent collection. Several cities in the United States, among which Phoenix (AZ) and New York, have actually replaced the International Symbol of Access by the updated design.

Enablecode logoAs a web development company, Enablecode is of course involved with design, too, and when you look at our logo, you will notice that it is very similar to the one designed by Hendren and Glenney. It depicts a happy and active person, moving forward quickly in their wheelchair. Like those behind The Accessible Icon Project, Enablecode’s team aims to demonstrate to society what people with disabilities are capable of, rather than what they are unable to do. Since logos are supposed to convey a message, Enablecode thus chose to include an active-looking person in their logo.

Similarly, one of the main reasons why many people prefer Hendren and Glenney’s new design over the International Symbol of Access is because it emphasizes the person rather than the disability and portrays a more active image.

Not everyone is in favor of replacing the International Symbol of Access by the updated design, however. While Hendren explains that this is merely symbolic, some people have expressed concern over the fact that the new symbol still only represents one type of disability, that of people who use wheelchairs. Considering that less than 10% of people with disabilities are actually wheelchair users, this is a valid argument. On the other hand, it is impossible to include a literal representation of every type of disability in only one picture.

So, what is your opinion? Is it time to replace the International Symbol of Access and if so, is the design by The Accessible Icon Project an appropriate substitute? Let us know what you think in the comments.


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