Recently, I was walking from Market One toward the Quad and decided to cut through the breezeway when I saw it. I had never really noticed the handicap accessible sign before, but this one caught my eye. The sign behind Wilson featured a person leaning forward in their wheelchair, showing movement, which contrasted the old, passive wheelchair and person in the old symbol. When I investigated further, I found out that the symbol was actually part of a larger project called The Accessible Icon Project with the aims to change how we talk sand view the disability community.
The Accessible Icon Project knows that visible representation matters and the disability icon of an inactive, static person is not fully representative of the community. So they decided to create a new symbol that would challenge our cultural views of disability. They break down the symbol into five parts of how they increased activity with the icon:
1) Head is forward to indicate the forward motion of the person through space. Here the person is the “driver” or decision maker about her mobility.
2) Arm is pointing backward to suggest the dynamic mobility of a chair user, regardless of whether or not she uses her arms. Depicting the body in motion represents the symbolically active status of navigating the world.
3) By including white angled knockouts the symbol presents the wheel as being in motion. These knockouts also work for creating stencils used in spray paint application of the icon. Having just one version of the logo keeps things more consistent and allows viewers to more clearly understand intended message.
4) The human depiction in this icon is consistent with other body representations found in the ISO 7001 – DOT Pictograms. Using a different portrayal of the human body would clash with these established and widely used icons and could lead to confusion.
5) The leg has been moved forward to allow for more space between it and the wheel, which allows for better readability and cleaner application of icon as a stencil.
Artist Sara Hendron and collaborator Brian Glenney explains the symbol started as “guerilla art” where they would stick transparent stickers of the new symbol over old ones. The original goal for the project was to just being a dialogue about perceptions of disability, and it has done that and more. The revamped symbol is ADA compliant and is spreading across the country with it being adapted by businesses, universities, and full cities. It has become a metaphor for self- determination and self- reliance the disability community often has removed from them. Disability has become politically invisible, and feminism often excludes those who have a disability from the conversation. The icon is important for us to consider and really think about the way we talk/ think/ or perceive disability.
I know on this campus we have few conversations on disability and little visibility of it. Many people claim they don’t talk about it because they don’t encounter it- so why should it matter? It matters because while the JMU bubble may face issues of diversity for some group’s inclusion does not mean those same groups don’t exist in the real world. The Accessible Icon Project echoes this idea and asks for people to change, advocate, and share the new icon in order to challenge stereotypes of the disability community.
CHANGE: You can use our products or resources to change your signs.
ADVOCATE: We have resources for involving your community in disability advocacy.
SHARE: We’d love to hear from you. The icon is a starting place—a seed for conversations about accessibility, inclusion, and disability rights.
Events that were part of JMU’s Disability Awareness Week this past week and increased visibility of disability in the media are necessary in order for us to challenge our perceptions of the world and see there is more to disability than meets the eye.