NY legislators support new disability icon

| June 30, 2014

Lawmakers in New York are following the lead of the state’s largest city and backing a change to the familiar icon representing the disabled. Instead of a stick figure sitting upright in a wheelchair, which advocates argue portray the disabled as passive, the revamped image shows the figure leaning forward with arms raised as if pushing the wheelchair ahead. The word “handicapped” appears nowhere on the blue square against which the icon is foregrounded.


accessible icon

The new Accessible Icon, from accessibleicon.org.

The Republican-led state senate passed the measure that would make the changed image the new standard for signs used for ramps and accessible parking. Only signs installed after the implementation of the legislation will be subject to the regulation, which has been forwarded to Governor Andrew Cuomo for consideration. The bill has already passed the Democrat-led Assembly.

The revised icon was first introduced two years ago in eastern Massachusetts at Gordon College, where assistant professor of philosophy Brian Glenney collaborated with Sara Hendren, a graduate student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, on the changes. What began as an art project for the two quickly morphed into activism. They made stickers and stencils and began posting their version of the icon, which has since been found ADA-compliant, around campus. Advocacy groups and businesses were quick to support their efforts: a nearby town began using their design, and Gordon College adopted it as well. Not long after, Glenney and Hendren launched the Accessible Icon Project.

“The Accessible Icon Project is part of a general attempt to bring about a public reconception of what it means to be disabled, either physically or cognitively,” Glenney said.

The group is enjoying success. In May, New York City agreed to begin using the icon, which residents may start seeing around the boroughs as early as this summer. “It’s such a forward-moving thing,” said Victor Calise, commissioner of the New York mayor’s Office for People With Disabilities.

Senator David Carlucci (D) of Westchester County, who sponsored the measure at the state level, agreed. “The word ‘handicapped’ is outdated, derogatory and just plain offensive,” he said when introducing the bill.

The Accessible Icon Goes to NYC (February 2014) from Tim Lindgren on Vimeo.

With the nation’s largest city backing the new icon and New York State also considering its use, supporters are hopeful that the redesign will gain more widespread acceptance. “I predict it will be a real trendsetter,” Wayne Sailor, cofounder of disabled advocacy group TASH and professor of special education at the University of Kansas, told the press last month. “That will make a splash.”

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Category: Handicapped parking, Parking management

About the Author ()

Cielo Lutino is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. She has written for such publications as the L Magazine and Portland Monthly, and her literary nonfiction has appeared in journals such as the Los Angeles Review and Cold Mountain Review.

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