Some icons are so commonplace that we’ve come to not think twice about them—until they’re changed. One such image undergoing a makeover is the ‘International Symbol of Access’, commonly known as the ‘Wheelchair Symbol’.
There’s no doubt that the existing icon is easily recognizable; the problem, especially for the people it is supposed to represent, is that it portraits wheelchair users as passive and inactive—the original variation even depicted wheelchair users as headless. Combatting the problem is the Accessible Icon Project, an initiative designed to help change perceptions of wheelchair users by redesigning the classic icon to focus on the individual, rather than the disability. The new design is as easily recognizable, and ADA compliant but also features a person in control of their own movement and navigating the world under their own power.
Each element of the icon has been carefully judged to ensure the new symbol carries none of the negative connotations of the previous icon. Certainly the new design is less in-keeping with the 1960s view of people with disabilities that produced the original.
The Project encourages grassroots efforts to replace old signs with the new forward-thinking symbol. Both stencils and stickers are available for those that wish to enact change.
The Accessible Icon Project is a great example of how design can change the world for the better.