Changing Handicap Accessible Parking Icon

Can Perceptions About Disability Be Changed by a New Accessible Icon?

The stick figure in a wheelchair is universally recognized as an indication of access for people with a disability, but many feel that it is due for a new, more vibrant look. Artist Sara Hendren, who lives in Cambridge, MA and has three children, one of whom has Down Syndrome, has taken the old image and given it a new spin: instead of a static image of a person who is part of a chair, her design shows mobility with the person, and thus the chair, in forward motion.

New Accessible Icon Project

The International Symbol of Access, as it is formally known, was originally commissioned by Rehabilitation International in 1968. The purpose was to standardize the designation for facilities accessible to those with disabilities on a global level. It was adopted by the United Nations and is included in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

New Accessible Icon Artist Sara Hendren

Giving Hendren’s new, more dynamic design momentum has not been an easy task. In the beginning, she printed stickers and put them on top of the old design on local signs. People feared that the new design might violate the ADA rules, but state and federal officials said that variations are acceptable as long as new variations are easily identifiable as wheelchairs.

Changing Handicap Accessible Parking Icon

Changing Handicap Accessible Parking Icon

Changing Handicap Accessible Parking Icon

Changing Handicap Accessible Parking Icon

For Hendren, the change is more about perception than a graphic design. She and other advocates of the design hope that the new accessible icon will help the able-bodied open their mind–ultimately perceiving a person with a disability not as someone with limits, but as someone who is independent, active and moving forward.

“There’s a much bigger question to ask about who is abled and who is disabled and what we think about dependence and need. I’m just trying to start a discussion where we reevaluate our assumptions and our attitudes,” she said.

Epic Accessible Icon Project Symbol

The design is catching on and can be currently found at Gordon College in Massachusetts, and the new look is replacing the old in locations in Boston and Malden, Massachusetts. The city of New York plans to begin using the new icon this summer.

Wheelchair Accessible Icon New York Taxi

“It’s such a forward-moving thing,” says Victor Calise, commissioner in the mayor’s Office for People With Disabilities in New York City.

On a global level, the design is capturing attention, as it’s currently used in a hospital in India.

Changing Handicap Accessible Parking Icon

What do you think? Can the design change for a long-standing image help foster a more positive perception of people with disabilities?


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3 thoughts on “Can Perceptions About Disability Be Changed by a New Accessible Icon?

  1.'Paul Wilson

    What a wonderful idea. I love the design & the way the icon depicts movement. The original icon has done it’s job but it’s time for renewal.

  2.'Meghan Watry

    Where can we get stickers of the new design? Any thoughts on how we can bring it to the Midwest?

    1. Susan Hawkins

      Hi, Meghan! It appears that individual cities and private organizations are “adopting” the new icon and replacing the old icon within their jurisdiction. I believe the federal government would have to adopt the new icon to make the change nationwide. It’s likely you’ll have to go through your city council to get the new icon approved for your area, after which the city would replace the old icons in government buildings, on parking signs, etc. with the new one. Perhaps you can email your city council person with the proposal to make the change. Be sure to include a photo of the new design. After an Internet search for the new icon decals, the only place I could find them for sale was on Ebay. I hope this helps! Thanks for following our blog!

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