The Accessible Icon Project

by Bruce on January 8, 2013

in General, Guest Articles

I was recently contacted by Leah Serao (Twitter: @accessiconpro) from the Accessible Icon Project and below is the email thread. Their words regarding their aim:

The Accessible Icon Project provides supplies and services to transform the old International Symbol of Access into an active, engaged image.

And the Images:










I think the Paralympics would have been a great place to use this Icon.

Below is the conversation with Leah.

From: Leah Serao
Subject: The Accessible Icon Project

Message Body:

My name is Leah Serao. I recently found you on twitter and wanted to share a project I am currently helping to promote. Our goal is to represent people with physical disabilities in a more active and engaged way. I have given you a brief overview of the project below. I can provide you with more information if necessary. We would love if you would write a piece on our project or I can write one for you to post/simply use the information I posted below. We would then post your bloglink to our facebook and twitter site for all to see.

The Accessible Icon Project:

1. Background:

In 2009, Dr. Brian Glenney, a professional graffiti artist and associate philosophy professor at Gordon College partnered with Sarah Hendred, a graduate student from Harvard School of Design and created what they called – the Accessible Icon Logo. This proposed “active accessibility” logo is an evolved image of the current International Symbol of Access, better known as the “handicapped” symbol.

2. Purpose:

Although I believe I can safely assume almost everyone has looked at an accessibility parking sign, elevator sign, and/or bathroom sign in a public facility, I question how many of us have critically thought about what this symbol represents. While its service in accommodating those with physical disabilities is without peer, we argue that the time has come for change and that it is time for society to move forward to represent people with disabilities more accurately. The purpose of the Accessible Icon Project is for people with disabilities to reimage whom they are as individuals and for society to agree with the belief that people with disabilities are both active and engaged in the world today. The intention is to cast people with disabilities in a dynamic and active light, as opposed to the current passive light”.

3. Looking at the Current International Symbol of Access:

Some words that come to my own mind: “Helplessness? Immobile? Static? Lifeless? “Cap-in-hand” dependence? Passive? If any of these associations about the symbol are at all accurate, should this worry people with disabilities and disability advocates? Is an image or a symbol that represents people with disabilities in this light actually significant? I say yes”.

4. Evolved Symbol of Access (the picture we are promoting):

Words that come to my mind: “How about active, abled, moving-forward, engaged, ready-for-action, determined- and that’s just to name a few. The new symbol conveys a sense of life and action. With the hands and the body posture moving forward, the person sitting in the wheelchair does not seem constrained to the wheelchair, but seems determined and confident in their ability to move forward. As Dr. Brain Glenney states, “He’s not just riding a wheelchair…he’s riding it like a skateboard”. This social perception of people with physical disabilities portrays those with disabilities in a positive light. The evolved International Symbol of Access better portrays the social perception that society should have of people with disabilities”.

5. Conclusion
We are not trying to replace the symbol, but to evolve the symbol. We want people with disabilities to be represented accurately. we argue that this progressive ADA approved symbol becomes a new rallying-point for the advocacy of disabled populations by those who want to express support by replacing their handicap symbols with those of active accessibility”. As the mayor of Malden states, “The new handicap symbol should represent a new attitude of disabled people… It’s not people with disabilities” … “It’s people with abilities”. We believe that the evolved International “active accessibility” symbol reshapes how society thinks about people with disabilities and gives people with disabilities a new perception of whom they are as active and engaged members in society, which, in return, gives hope for people with disabilities to move forward and to be a contributing force to our society. The Accessible Icon Project, which is already gaining support in Massachusetts and now potentially North Carolina thanks to Branden Hildreth, is a progressive and tangible way for a real transformation to take place. I challenge you to think how your local town, community, and/or university would react to the “active assessiblity” symbol. For those who are interested, we have the contact information available on the screen for those who wish to become partners with the Accessible Icon Project and can visit our website at You can also follow us on twitter @accessiconpro and become a fan on facebook at


To: Leah Serao
Subject: RE: The Accessible Icon Project

Hi Leah

I love the new disabled decal/Accessible Icon Logo, Brian and Sarah are to be congratulated with their design, it conjures an image in the mind’s eye of a wheelchair user being proactive and upwardly mobile. The existing/old logo does give the impression that wheelchair users are sedate and somewhat helpless. Your movement could lift that stigma.

Change is a concept that often takes a generation to accept but as they say, a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. The word ‘disabled’ is one that will always be with us, let’s face it, there are parts of my body that don’t work therefore I am disabled so, with that in mind, I would like the new logo to help upgrade peoples thinking/attitude towards wheelchair users. I feel the symbolic message conveyed by the new decal is, in the main, disabled people have a physical disability which they are determined will not stop them.

It is important too that wheelchair users understand the principle of the new logo. It’s sending a visual message saying, although we are physically disabled, we are still progressive, capable and in many ways able bodied people. Not a literal message saying we’re all Olympic competitors. I had to laugh when I saw the picture of the new logo on a toilet door as it gave me the impression of a wheelchair user bursting to use the loo.

I live in the UK where we have the identical old decal disabled logo. I’m not sure how I would go about getting it upgraded to the new modern thinking logo. The USA are much more progressive in implementing a change of this type. Here, we have just one ‘Highways Department’ that deals with signs, it covers the whole of the UK, I expect it would take an act of parliament (new law) to change all the signs and I’m not even going to think about costs involved. Nevertheless you have my support, I hope your new logo will be one small step towards improving the image of the wheelchair user and improve people’s perception that they are capable and have as much to contribute to society as the abled bodied.

Bruce Monteith

Sent: Monday, 7 January 2013, 16:19
Subject: RE: The Accessible Icon Project

Hi Bruce,

Thank you so much for your thoughts. We truly appreciate and value the time you spent to reflect on the project. Would you mind if we used your email and your thoughts to help promote the project? This may mean that we quote parts onto twitter or facebook referencing the lines back to you. (Or even the whole email if you were comfortable) I thought you worded some concepts about the project beautifully! Let us know either way, but regardless, thank you. It means a lot! We would love to see this new symbol eventually go international so if you have any potential contact people in the UK that can help make this happen, I would appreciate you sharing.

Thanks again and I wish you all the best on your blog, twitter, and your others projects that are helping people change their attitude and beliefs about people with disabilities.

Best Regards,
Leah Serao

Sent: Tuesday, 8 January 2013, 17:48
Subject: Re: The Accessible Icon Project


Please use any contribution I have to offer to promote your new Logo.

I can give you an example of why we need to change some peoples concept of wheelchair users. It was on an occasion when I was attending a Church of England funeral:
I entered the village church in my wheelchair and parked by the end pew furthest from the alter, out of the way of everyone as I thought. People sat in silence. The coffin entered on the shoulders of the pall bearers followed by the immediate family. The bearers placed the coffin on the bier’s at the chancel step, between the lectern and the pulpit then discreetly retreated. The family took their place in the front pews leaving everyone to reflect upon the life of a departed friend. The door to the vestry opened behind me and the curate made his way to the side of my chair. I looked up as he leaned across me, draping me with his frock and showing me a point blank closeup of his armpit as he supported his balance on the back of the pew next to me. He then said to the person who was sitting in that end pew, ‘is the chair with you’. It turned out that (being jobs worthy) he wanted an uninterrupted isle for himself and the choristers to walk down. Remember, the pall bearers had already passed me with the coffin without a problem to give you some idea of how much room there was and with no one else behind me to see, he lost no affect for his procession. Needless to say I was disappointed that he could not address me directly. Although I had the right to protest against his affront, I sat in silence as I did not want to be the cause of further distress to a grieving family. Sometimes it’s not possible to point out to others that wheelchair users should be given the same respect as anybody else.


Would you like to submit an article? Or is there a subject you would like me to cover? Please leave a comment or send me a message

Previous post:

Next post: