Sunday, 22 September 2013

ReImagining Accessibility - thoughts on a logo

There is a competition in Canada open to students, aimed at redesigning the accessibility symbol. Because wheelchair use only represents a very small proportion of people with disabilities and is, lets face it, rather dull.

There was also an article on BBC ouch a couple of days ago about redesigning the accessibility logo.

On one level I like the competition. It shows that society is starting to be uncomfortable with routinely depicting disability as helplessness and passivity. Let's face it, when the standard symbol is the image of disability people see most, it isn't surprising that they see it as scary and something that must be categorically awful to live with. So hey, the change could be positive. [Part of me resigns itself to much hype and over-thinking about inclusion. I don't like talking about inclusion. I don't like people making an issue about how good it is that I am 'included'. I like to be me. "Include Hannah? What do you mean? Of course she's coming!", where no-one minds my wheels or other quirks, they are just registered as "choose venue with lift/elevator, no cobbled pavements, and good air con".]

On another level I am slightly annoyed because I can't enter - seeing as I have never been, am not, and never will be a design student.

But on yet another level, I think the competition risks missing the point.

A single symbol is not practical. For example, I, as a wheelchair using disabled person, always look for the access ramp. Someone with a hearing impairment might be looking for access where you don't have to press a buzzer and listen to a question in order to be let in. Someone who walks but finds it hard or tiring might be looking for the shortest route and not mind the odd step on the way.

In many places, these requirements will be met by different physical arrangements - different routes. If you try and make some funky symbol that includes them all you'll just confuse things. As far as I am aware, there are many different symbols in existence - I've seen the impaired hearing signs, visually impaired signs, symbols with walking sticks, and needing-to-sit-down-symbols. I've seen standard wheelchair symbols and sporty wheelchair symbols. Why not let people adapt the standard symbol to the relevant situation. The current accessibility symbol would work well on the entrance to the dentist, the sporty version I saw once would work well at the Gym. I think this is appropriate and practical and useful.

But as a symbol that represents me, I use this.

Because it shows life.
It shows joy.
It shows acceptance.
It shows a valuable member of society who's difference is no big deal.

But not everyone has a wheelchair! And not everyone can raise their arms above their head. And what about cognitive and hidden disabilities?

True: but tell me, when you see the symbol, is the first thing you think 'disability'. Is it? Or is your first reaction to smile? To see the representation of human being so clearly full of life. Yes, the image is still on wheels, but given the over-riding sense of life, belonging, confidence and value, perhaps all the wheel does is acknowledge a difference - it is a symbol not a dictionary definition. What type of difference is irrelevant. It is just a difference.

Anyway, I'm not surprised that people with other disabilities don't relate to the current lifeless symbol. I don't relate to it and I AM a wheelchair user!

I admit, I am totally biased. It is my design - of course I like it.

A symbol that says 'I'm a person, with a different normal, accept me as I am and we'll do just fine.'

But I'm not the only one that thinks it isn't just for wheelchair users. Many people who use my stickers do not use wheelchairs - some don't even have mobility issues. Like the hearing-impaired chap who cycles round London with my symbol adorning his bike and helmet.

And the kid with ASD who thinks it is awesome that he is one of the people that this joyous symbol represents.

So anyone reading this who is planning on entering the competition, please don't get hung up on the disability side of it but remember the people full of life and potential, with differences which, when recognised, accepted and common sense solutions applied, need not be barriers to a fulfilled life.

[P.S. This symbol is copyright protected. Please don't use or print it without permission. If you want to use it: ask - this symbol is my company logo but I do grant permission for it's use in certain circumstances. Or buy and use the various stickers available here.]

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