Redesigning the International Symbol of Access

We are now in the process of venturing out into the world with Carebox and have recently signed up for Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to help spread the word about our website. Through this process we’ve made some really interesting initial connections and I’d like to share one of these with you now.

But first, take a look at the current International Symbol of Access, which depicts a person sitting in a wheelchair. Seen on toilet doors, parking bays and practically every public building in the developed world, the International Symbol of Access has been in circulation since 1969. The seated figure is not moving, not acting, just sitting. This message (which could be read as: disabled person = passive object + wheelchair) is both problematic and outdated, according to activists from the Accessible Icon Project.

The Accessible Icon Project began in 2010 but is an ongoing work in design activism. Founded by Sara Hendren and Brian Glenney, the Accessible Icon Project created an alternative symbol depicting a person in motion in a wheelchair. At first, the work started as a guerilla street art campaign around Boston:

…placing a clear-backed sticker on top of parking signs depicting the International Symbol of Access. As street art, the work was intended to use the language of graffiti—unsanctioned, informal public expression—to pose questions about disability in the built environment and in democratic societies: Who is able, and who is disabled? What do inclusive streets, architecture, schools, workplaces, and economic structures look like?

Before long, the campaign got a lot of media attention, and Hendren and Glenney realised they could make big changes if they took their project mainstream. So they teamed up with a graphic designer to make a new icon that met international guidelines and the icon grew from a street art graphic to a formal isotype in line with other standard 2D icons that can be seen in public spaces everywhere.

The icon is now in the public domain, free for use by anyone and it appears in all kinds of places far beyond the founders’ reach. You can download the new icon for free on the Accessible Icon Project website.

2 Replies to “Redesigning the International Symbol of Access”

  1. Thanks for the Blog post Evie – I think the new “action” Access symbol definitely does feel more positive! Let’s hope that it continues to appear in all sorts of places.

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