Redesigning the International Symbol of Access

Redesigning the International Symbol of Access

Some people cite the ubiquitous International Symbol of Access for inadvertently projecting an image of people with disabilities as being passive: “Its arms and legs are drawn like mechanical parts, its posture is unnaturally erect, and its entire look is one that make the chair, not the person, important and visible.” By graphically correcting those details, The Accessible Icon Project aims to transform the symbol “into an active, engaged image.” The redesign is already slated to be implemented in New York City this year. Find out more at the project’s Web site, and read an interview with project founder Sara Hendren at Print.



  1. I do like the agressive attitude this brings.

    But to me it looks like a disabled marathon runner.
    (Maybe “runner” might not be the best word).

    See reference: Link

  2. I think this is an incredibly difficult brief. Huge congratulations to those involved.

    I’d be interested in hearing more about why the angle of the arm is so aggressive. As a result of imagining myself in that pose, it feels very agitated. The elbow is very high–I’m not sure I’m flexible enough to achieve that posture. Was there investigation of a more relaxed posture, still with the arm raised and head forward, just not to such a degree?

  3. I hope someone does a better job than the obiquitous pictogram being used everywhere. The original version, as I recall, was designed by Susanne Koefoed. She rendered a profile view of a wheelchair. Some time later, Karl Montan supposedly added a “head” to the wheelchair back to make it resemble a person riding a wheelchair.

    The problem with the current version is that it is exactly that, a wheelchair with a ball head on it. it is awkward and crude. I have worked in pictogram design for many years, and this is one of those unfortunate cases where a bad solution has set a precedent, then everyone goes and propagates it out into the world. Ugh.

    This version is better than the original, but I agree with others’ comments that it appears the person is almost too dynamic-looking, as if fending off an attacker who is coming from behind.

  4. It still defines someone with a disability as a wheelchair-user though. A tough brief, but starting with a misconception doesn’t solve the problems of perception of people who live with the myriad varients of what classifies disability—just taking mobility issues alone, there are more people who have a disability that affects their movement than use a wheelchair. And a majority of wheelchair users might not need to use one all the time.

  5. The original symbol was a product of a time when disability pretty much counted a person out of society. You would be tolerated; but you certainly weren’t expected to join in, contribute and achieve in the everyday world. The passive nature of the symbol reflected this attitude.

    It seems right to me that the symbol should be updated to reflect the changes in society’s attitudes around disability. Well done to the city of New York for leading the charge here.

    As for the symbol itself, it looks like the person in it is struggling to move forward; I can only assume this is an intentional metaphor from the designer.

    I don’t know whether a symbol like this can be responsible for changing attitudes in the future. The fact that a City the size of New York feels it’s appropriate to adopt this new symbol shows that attitudes are changing already.

  6. I agree that the old symbol is stiff. This is much more dynamic, but I agree with everyone’s comments that is too dynamic. What if you’re someone in their 70s that uses a wheelchair? Or disabled in a way that you can’t race your wheelchair as if you’re doing the NY Marathon?

    Also, the quote ” “Its arms and legs are drawn like mechanical parts, its posture is unnaturally erect” would apply to the able body bathroom signs as well. Why didn’t they adress those?

  7. Should’ve gone to design school.

    This logo is just not something that should be adopted internationally, let alone across New York City. The attitude is wonderful but the execution of the design makes the community it serves look amateurish.

    Seriously, this might pass as a first draft design. We can do better.

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