Moving Forward: Activating and Evolving the International Symbol of Access

Officially called the International Symbol of Access (ISA), the “handicap” symbol is one of the most recognized symbols in the world. While its service in accommodating those with physical disabilities is without peer, we argue that changes must be made. In its current state, the ‘passive handicap’ stick-figure pictogram portrays a stagnant figure constrained to the restraints of the wheelchair, representing at best an archaic conception of people with disabilities. Just as our language and terminology has evolved in describing disabled populations, we argue that our symbols must progress as well. We propose an evolved international ‘active accessibility’ symbol to better represent the progressive conception of current disabled populations as active and engaged in society, moving forward in our new century ( This progressive symbol, we argue, stimulates others to re-imagine the active role that those with disabilities play in society. This is suggested by both quantitative and qualitative survey data collected from locations where this new symbol has replaced the old. In addition, we argue that this progressive symbol becomes a new rallying-point for the advocacy of disabled populations by those who want to express support by replacing their handicap symbols with those of active accessibility.

Dr. Glenney, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Gordon College (also a graffiti artist and activist) and myself were invited to speak at the University of Tennessee on November 29th and 30th for a Disability Issues and Advocacy Conference to promote this issue. The keynote speaker for this conference will be Sam Sullivan, the former mayor of Vancouver with paraplegia. He will be talking about his experiences with the election process, urban and citizenship issues, and disability advocacy.

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