Friday, February 12, 2010

Does the disability logo need a makeover?

The current disability logo has become ingrained in us as a part of American culture. It's in every parking lot, on thousands of license plates, on any push-button, and outside every accessible restroom. But is it the best symbol for Americans to use to represent the disabled population?

First, lets look at the positives of the current logo:
  • It's simple and easily recognizable: It's not a complicated design, and it's easily reproduced, making it easy to create signs, paint parking spots, etc. It's also very clear what the logo represents. It's a person in a wheelchair. There can be no confusion over that.
  • There's little controversy regarding its use: From my past experience, there seems to be very little controversy surrounding the logo from within the disability rights movement. I've not once heard from somebody offended by its use.
  • It's part of our culture: At this point, the current logo represents the Americans With Disabilities Act, and in general, disabilities of all types. We're used to it. As is everybody in most major developed nations, as most countries use a symbol that more or less resembles what's posted above.
Now, I would hesitate to call what I've written as a ringing endorsement. In fact, there are many things I dislike about the disability logo. The negatives:
  • The logo is stiff and rigid: The person in the picture isn't moving, and can be interpreted as "just sitting there." While there are no handle bars on the back of the wheelchair, it seems as though this person would need the assistance of somebody else in order to do just about anything. This just feeds into the pervasive stereotype of individuals with disabilities: They are helpless, inactive, and always need assistance from others. Do we really want that as the "universal" symbol of accessibility?
  • The logo is accepted nearly everywhere: As mentioned above, I've heard very few complaints about this logo, and in fact, had given it very little thought myself until recently. Does this mean the disability rights movement has accepted it as our logo?
What got me thinking about this post was a logo I saw on the doors of a store recently. The logo there looked a lot like the one at the right. It was simple, yet in the end, brilliant.

This logo (which I found at took the old one, and simply added arms in motion. That tiny addition makes an enormous difference:
  • It shatters the helpless stereotype: The person in the new logo is propelling him or herself, without the need of any other assistance. It sends such a simple message. People in wheelchairs, in fact, can go shopping on their own, can park their cars on their own, can use an accessible restroom on their own.
  • It's not stiff and rigid: As a generic symbol, it gets rid of the idea that an individual in a wheelchair sits in his or her chair all day waiting for something exciting to happen.
  • It's starting to catch on. As I mentioned, I saw a similar logo to this outside of a store in suburban Chicago, while companies such as Inclusion Solutions already utilize this logo on their products.
  • It's still similar to the old logo: A shift to the new-look logo would not cause whiplash within the general public. The colors and overall theme are the same. In fact, I would guess that a high percentage would not even notice the difference. So this would keep us in line with the "universal" symbol for disability while updating it for the realities of the 21st century.
After taking that all into account, I think it's time we re-examine our current disability logo and make some tweaks. A small step here can lead to a giant leap in the perception of those with disabilities...


H. Sterling said...

interesting -- now that I see the difference, I like the newest version.

The Stoker said...

It's amazing how a simple change can bring motion to the logo and by doing so give it a more positive spin. Thanks for calling attention to this.

Megan said...

i like this post - it seems like such a minor thing but i agree, we don't realize how much our perception can be affected by these types of minor things. i like the new one!