You see them in parking lots, bathrooms, license plates and public transportation. It’s easily recognizable, yet most don’t think about them too much. It’s the handicap symbol, and in New York it’s getting a fresh look after 45 years.
What started as an illegal art project in Rhode Island by Sara Hendren and Brian Glenney soon transformed into a movement for change recognized by the government. Their original idea was to liven up the “stiff, robotic” look into a more active and human looking symbol. The message is to get away from presenting the look as a disAbility, and rather show that it is still a person in the chair who is still moving forward.
Inspiration for Mobility
An attempt to change the symbol in 1994 was proposed but failed. However, it did succeed as the inspiration for the new design, which was built on a grass-root platform spreading awareness through the right routes to reach real change. The biggest adopter so far is the state of New York, which signed the change into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo. In addition, NFL team Jacksonville Jaguars, the Boys and Girls Club in South Boston, and the Museum of Modern Art had all also updated their handicap logos to the new look.
The language of the symbol is also making a change. Using the word accessible now rather than handicap presents a more positive light on the symbol and thought process alike. The specific look of the logo now has the person leaning forward with arms back and wheel accented to appear spinning so that the overall appearance shows motion.
Handicap Symbol Represents Movement
No movement comes without concerns however, and the main issue presented with the Accessibility Icon Project is that it resembles an athlete and doesn’t represent the disabled as a whole. Though true from this perspective, the designer Sara Hendren pushes to move the focus away from a literal interpretation to its symbolism. The movement is not solely about a new look, but brings attention for us to take action and rethink disAbility in society.
Only time will tell if the project will gain national or even worldwide change. What is known though is that it starts conversations and gives people a new way to look at those different around them.