Disabled symbol in New York

Here’s Dylan’s piece. For full context my answers are below.

What do you think of the new wheelchair logo?

Jeff Gentry of the Accessible Icon team said the purpose of the project wasn’t to replace the original design, but to create conversation about accessibility, inclusion, and the capability of people with disabilities to navigate their world. That’s a worthy aim, and despite the mostly negative online comments I’ve read it’s probably far too early to judge the project’s effectiveness.

Is it a better design? More positive than the previous iteration?

I rarely see anyone in a wheelchair who leans forward to such an extent unless they’re in a race. Perhaps there was an iteration between the new and old where the figure didn’t seem to be in such a hurry.

Some critics say the new logo appears to be inspired by a Paralympic athlete and is not representative of all handicapped disabled persons. Fair criticism?

The use of a chair will always mean the design isn’t representative of everyone with a disability. What’s important is that people understand the meaning of the symbol, whether there’s an element of motion to the design or not.

If you were charged with the redesign, how would you approach it?

I’d look for a different way to create a conversation.

The story elsewhere:
The handicap symbol gets an update, from The Washington Post
Governor Cuomo signs legislation updating New York’s accessibility signage and logos, on the Governor’s website
The icon graphic elements, on the Accessible Icon Project site
International Symbol of Access, in the archives


I’m fairly sure it’s been at least a decade since people stopped using the word ‘handicapped’….

That’s the symbol I was referring to, Chris. Thanks for the web address! I think personally the accesssymbol.com is much better resolved visually, less complicated, more understandable than this new proposal.

Its a pretty good stab at a re-think.

Not wishing to divert the thread but….

A graphic campaign of symbols referring to ‘not yet disabled’ would be interesting, as we all succumb to disability at some point in our lives.

Agreed, the new one looks too sportsy, and you rarely, if ever, see someone maneuvering a wheelchair this way. Serious question, since I am in the dark: Would not pushing your back against the chair give you more ability to move your hands forward and push the wheels forward, especially since one would be unable to move waist down? If that is true, the original logo is accurate, and still PC, and the new one is inaccurate. I’d like to know the reasoning behind this redesign – were people very offended by the original?

As a person who is a manual wheelchair user, when propelling a wheelchair, you do lean forward as it helps to propel, so this new symbol is perfect to show that we are on the move, not always needing assistance or staying in one spot.

The old one makes a person in a chair look like they are totally immobile and need to be pushed around like baggage.

The new one shows that people in chairs are not useless and most of them can move around on their own muscle or with the assistance of technology.

You may rarely see that but I see it every day on our university campus. I have never seen any of our students with mobility issues being pushed around like a statue. Even those in motorized wheelchairs take care of themselves. Not everyone in a chair is immobile “from the waist down.” Many are missing limbs, have stamina issues, are post-surgery, can walk but not far enough, have waxing and waning conditions due to MS or other system problems. People want to be seen as independent human beings, not robots with short useless arms in a chair.

As a person living with disability and using a wheelchair, I have to say this symbol represents me and many of the people I’ve met who are in a similar situation. (MS) Whenever you are driving a distance, or going uphill, and want to conserve energy, you use this position. You lean forward, extend your arms backward, grab the handle-wheels (not sure what they are called in English as I’m Swedish) and push them forward as you move your upper body backward. This gives the best speed for the least physical effort.

Now, if you’re a quadriplegic, or paralysed in a way that makes this impossible, you are most likely using an electric wheelchair, driven via a joystick, and then the old symbol would suffice. I hope this helps clear something up! :-)

I remember discussing this in a signage project at design school more than a decade ago. The idea is to get away from the pitiful posture with the head lowered as if in shame and the hand gesture of a beggar (apart from the poor graphic quality). I think I actually suggested using that pictogram by Brendán Murphy (see Chris Howard’s comment and link to accesssymbol.com.) Not sure if the client, a municipal services building, ended up using it, but I certainly hope so because it is so much more elegant and conveys a good sense of activity.

The one suggested here, on the other hand, is a bit bulky and busy. The two gaps in the wheel add to a bad figure gestalt. It might work as a statement on a large poster or super-large banner.

This is not a “logo”, it is a pictogram used mainly for signage. The old one obviously needs an update but the new one is not an ideal design. If you are in charge of a signage project, you certainly have the freedom to create a design that suits your project, as long as it communicates to the audience in a elegant and appropriate way. It is the “international standard” but does not mean that it can not be tweaked.

Looks like fun but… wouldn’t it hurt an old person’s back if everybody did it?

Saw this discussion at the Welcome Collection Museum in London today… just wondering how necessary a re-design is? Many women don’t wear skirts or identify with feminine ways, but the universal sign on a women’s toilet is a figure in a skirt… it’s a simplistic logo that doesn’t fit all women… but it works! The person in a wheelchair doesn’t fit everyone with a disability… but I thought it is widely recognised, simplistic and it works!

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