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New 'Accessible Icon' promotes a more active view of disability

Our posts last week focused on disability as it is presented in different aspects of American culture. Internet memes may seem like harmless fun, but they can really cast the disabled community in a negative light.

Although perception doesn’t always line up with reality, the way that people view disability makes a big difference. As just one example, some individuals may be hesitant to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance because they are worried about the “disabled” stigma. Others may try to downplay their disability even though it is debilitating and does not allow them to continue working.

Parts of the East Coast are hoping that something as simple as a symbol change could fundamentally alter the way society thinks about disability. We are all familiar with the blue signs with white profiles of a stick figure sitting in a wheelchair. This symbol can be seen both on signs and painted on the pavement in designated “handicapped” parking areas.

New York legislators recently passed a bill that will make New York the first state to use a more active version of that familiar stick figure. Rather than merely sitting upright, the stick figure in the wheelchair will be shown leaning forward with an arm raised behind his torso. The picture suggests motion, and athletic motion at that.

Along with the symbol change, the New York bill will also use the word “accessible” on new signs rather than the word “handicapped.” The changes will be implemented on all new signs and replacements.

This new symbol, known as the “Accessible Icon,” may not seem like a big or meaningful change. But anyone who has studied advertising (or even seen a commercial for that matter) understands on some level that our thinking is shaped by words and images. Changing the way we treat disability requires changing the way we think and talk about it.

Source: Disability Scoop, "In First, State Adopts Updated ‘Handicapped’ Symbol," Shaun Heasley, July 28, 2014

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