Posted by Mies Hora
I’m a firm believer in the development of new and more powerful ways to visually communicate important messages non-verbally. As a wayfinding professional and symbol designer with a keen interest in all things non-verbal, I say “by all means, let’s move communicating the accessibility concept forward”. But caution is appropriate when attempting to replace a well-established and vitally important societal icon with something that has not been fully usability tested, approved by relevant public regulators, or that has survived the rigors of a comprehensive design process.
On July 25, 2014, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation (A.8193/S.6846) that amended existing law to require the removal of the word “handicapped” from new or replaced state signage, as well as update and destigmatize the accessibility logo. The state will change the terminology on such signs, employing the word “accessible” instead of “handicapped.” The new revamped logo design, known as the “Accessible Icon,” depicts an ‘in-motion’ visual of a person using a wheelchair (above). Nice, right? Hmmmm….
Developed in 2012 by Sara Hendren, Brian Glenney and Tim Ferguson-Saunder, the new icon started out as a grassroots effort in Boston with supporters placing stickers featuring the updated graphic over signs with the old wheelchair symbol. To date it has been adopted by a number of organizations and municipalities in the U.S., including the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, the city of Merriam, Kansas, and New York City, among other localities, businesses and schools. Abroad, disability organizations such as the Enabling Unit in India are promoting this version.
One of my transportation clients worriedly asked me to look into this new symbol further, because altering or changing a ubiqitous accessibility symbol sign in use is not an insignificant prospect for any large public institution. As part of the process of researching the new accessibility symbol, I therefore set out to study it’s viability by looking at the response to it by wayfinding design and standards professionals, governmental agencies, and ADA specialists, as well as the disability community itself.
I was immediately struck by the realization that few, if any, comments were in evidence by any reputable or established wayfinding or symbol design specialists in favor of, or against the new design on all of the web sites, news articles, or announcements researched, including those of NY State.
As a wayfinding professional, my initial impression of the newly proposed AIP was decidedly mixed. While there is universal agreement among those in my field that there’s room for improvement in the original International Symbol of Access (ISA) symbol dating from 1968, there are also good alternatives available and in use already. Upon further reflection, it appears that the extreme approach taken by the AIP has erred in a number of important respects (see detailed brief HERE).
After discussing the issue with a broad array of wayfinding and design colleagues, and researching the topic extensively, I came to the conclusion that the new AIP symbol is the result of misguided enthusiasm and over-reach. Simply put, the AIP is not a well-balanced and consistent member of the international symbol ‘family’. However, that’s not to say that a more nuanced solution couldn’t be developed that meets the desired criteria of a more ‘active’ disabled constituency.
While the noble effort to modify the symbol for access to the new ‘in-motion symbol’ can be understood from the viewpoint of wanting to “de-stigmatize the access logo and to correct society’s understanding of accessibility” – as stated recently by Governor Cuomo – this particular path toward those goals may prove, in my considered opinion, to be a decisive stumble. The advocates of the new ‘Accessible Icon’ design may have inadvertently chosen a visually flawed vehicle to make their point, and risk alienating and confusing the very audience whose lives it was ostensibly designed to enhance, not to mention the general public.
You can view the complete illustrated brief (HERE). Please read it and decide for yourself whether the AIP is a ‘step forward’ or an accelerated detour. Your comments and thoughts are welcome.