wheelchair access symbol
American designers want to change the International Access Symbol to give it a more modern look

The International Symbol of Access is one of the most recognisable icons in the world but now a group of American designers are keen to modernise the symbol, claiming it’s become “politically invisible”.

The organisation, Accessible Icon Project, is highly sceptical of the current wheelchair access logo.  A spokesman for the group states: “Its arms and legs are drawn like mechanical parts, its posture is unnaturally erect and its entire look is one that makes the chair, not the person, important and visible.’

Paralympic Feel

The proposed new look has more of a Paralympic feel with the wheelchair user leaning forward, actively pushing the chair.  The designers want to get people thinking and believe the design should reflect disabled people in a more modern, postive way. 

American artist, Sara Hendron, a lecturer at Rhode Island School of Design, is behind the project.  She believes that the old symbol no longer resonates with today’s society and that other highly recognisable public symbols are more engaging.

Adopting New Wheelchair Symbol

Although there’s been interest from countries around the world for the creation of a new symbol there are various factors which contribute to whether or not the new proposal will be adopted.  Barry Gray, from the graphical symbols committee of the International Standards Organisation (ISO), likes the newly designed symbol but believes its representation is not quite clear.

Barry comments: “The new design idea is related to the style of a speedy wheelchair but it’s not a racing wheelchair sign we’re trying to create.

“We’re trying to create the idea that this is the way you go into the building, not to speed down a road.”

What is also apparent is that the new symbol, like the current design, depicts a wheelchair user but the symbol is supposed to represent disabled access for blindness, autism and many other non-wheelchair related impairments – a spectrum which Barry acknowledges is difficult to depict this visually.  Specific access symbols are now becoming more recognised, for example, an ear symbol is now widely recognised as the indication of a hearing loop available.

Gray says: “We recently introduced a symbol which indicates that assistance is available, to be used at a reception desk or similar.  It’s meant for people who need guidance, so perhaps people with sight or cognitive difficulties.”

Understanding that graphic symbols have limitations in what they can accomplish, artist Sara comments:  “I don’t wear skirts a lot but I go to the women’s restroom and the skirt on the woman in the icon means it’s not the men’s room.  Is there a problem with that?  Probably but it’s a shorthand that I can make peace with.”

Do you think it’s time for a new access logo?  What do you think of the proposed new design?  Leave a comment with your thoughts.

One Response to “Makeover for Wheelchair Access Icon?”

  1. Arthur Torrey

    I like the new design better than the old one – even have it on the back of my accessible van… I also am not terribly sympathetic to those that claim it fails to represent non-wheelchair related handicaps… My reason is that those with handicaps but not in a chair CAN use stairs and other access routes and facilites that I can’t use in a chair – so I feel that the chair symbol shouldn’t be used as a generic handicap access sign; it should be reserved for routes / facilities that are wheelchair suitable…


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