(re?) imagining an access icon

Basically, the fact that able bodied folks have turned this icon into some sort of shorthand representation of all disabled folks does not (in my mind) strip it of its use.


Parts of this contest could be interesting, but there was just recently another attempt to redesign the logo in new york (and elsewhere), which to my mind anyways did not live up to the hype, and in many ways simply reinforced some of the same inspiration porn nonsense over again. It was kind of embarrassing to watch people (predominantly if not all able bodied people) try to make it clear (without always being honest that that’s what they were saying, but usually being pretty transparent) that they wanted the icon to represent specifically able bodied centric notions of movement and access. But i digress.

It’s true that times have changed, ideas have changed, and that there are many disabled folks in north america who don’t necessarily use wheels to get around, and perhaps a re-do of some kind (and certainly more clarification and expansion) is in order. But please know that disabled folks are already on the case, particularly doing work on creating more inclusive icons to represent various disabled experiences, and most importantly, i think, doing the heavy ground work of changing dominant notions of what constitutes disability in the first place. The ideas around representing different kinds of disabled experiences are not actually new and groundbreaking.

But aside from all of that, it’s critical for folks to understand that one of the really important things about this symbol (aside from it being internationally recognizable –which is no small point, given that huge numbers of disabled folks outside of north america DO still use wheelchairs and other assistive devices as and when they’re available. North american context is not the only context to consider when talking about changing disability iconography) is that **it is not actually about naming who and how “disabled people” are or can be**. It is about naming a **particular level of accessibility**. I.e. if you see this symbol, you can (or should expect to be able to) assume that a person using a wheelchair can navigate a space –ramps, elevators, large washroom, etc.etc, which means it is accessible in many ways to others who may not use wheels.

It’s not about thinking that wheeled folks are the only “truly” or “worthy” disabled folks (that is a direct byproduct of ableism, not a failing of a symbol like this), it’s about understanding that access is about levels, layers, and if you start from the level of needing the kinds of structural access required when you do use wheels, you have a shit ton of wiggle room to work with for other kinds of physical access.


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