The most common, universal symbol for accessibility (on the left) features a medical image of someone in a wheelchair—lifeless, helpless, passive. Temporarily able-bodied people tend to look at people who have disabilities that way, seeing need without recognizing capability and giftedness.
A new icon (on the right) pushes that stereotype aside. The needy stick figure makes way for a person leaning forward, arm in the air as if to push wheels that are already in motion. The new symbol was developed by a Gordon College philosophy professor, Brian Glenney, in collaboration with a Harvard Design student, Sara Hendren.
Glenney explains, “I realized that this [passive] representation was actually part of my own real perception of this population, and I didn’t think I was the only one. So the Accessible Icon Project began as a way of correcting this perception by re-imagining the symbols we use to represent people with disabilities.”
All accessible* parking signs at offices of the CRC in Burlington, Byron Center, Grand Rapids, and Palos Heights feature the new symbol. If your church or business wishes to upgrade your signs, stickers can be purchased from the Accessible Icon Project for only $3 and a parking lot stencil is available too for painting contractors.
Our words and symbols both reflect and influence our thinking. These new symbols help us take a small step forward in our thinking and perceptions about people with disabilities.