It was a surprise to the Accessible Icon team when we received a call from the New York State Senate inviting us to speak at their press release regarding the Accessible Icon legislation (A.8193/S.6846) created by Senator Carlucci and Assemblywoman Galef. New York is now the first official state to adopt the icon officially. Here are pictures from our trip visiting New York for the special event.
Here is the paper I submitted to the University of Pittsburgh’s The Disability Experience: State of the Arts in Research, Scholarship and the Arts. I will be presenting on the Accessible Icon Project at this conference on October 31st-Nov 1st.
Given the ability for image to influence perception, it is necessary to critically analyze how symbols shape the way one thinks about individuals in society. Through societal norms, people have grown accustomed to accept images without using the same analytical process to pick apart images in the way they do text. Therefore, one needs to be very intentional about examining what symbols are teaching society and what ideas are being reflected through symbols people see every day.
When applied to the typical blue and white handicapped symbol, one can see that this current symbol leads to thoughts of passivity and inability. The stagnant, robotic and lifeless structure of the current symbol reinforces the misconceptions that ability advocates are steering away from, yet no one has changed the symbol since 1968. One critical step for changing the stigma about people with disabilities is to alter public perceptions by changing the International Symbol of Access.
The Accessible Icon Project is an international movement that has changed the handicapped sign into an image that is active and engaged. In 2009, Sara Hendren and Brian Glenney started a street art campaign in Boston to highlight the shortcomings of the current International Symbol of Access. After this was noticed by a writer in the Boston Globe, a new design was created in response to the feedback they received, and the team took on the new task of permanently changing the accessibility symbol. Since 2010, the project has grown from a grassroots campaign to a larger social design effort, now housed and run by Triangle. The icon has evolved from its first creation and now abides by ISO DOT 50 standards, a universally accepted icon set that determines the look of figures commonly seen on bathroom signage, and complies with ADA regulations.
Instead of having a symbol that looks lifeless and robotic, the Accessible Icon chooses to focus its design around movement. For example, the head is positioned forward to indicate the person as a decision maker of her/his mobility. The arm is pointing backward to suggest the dynamic mobility of a chair user, and the wheels are seen as being in motion to indicate the forward thinking of people with disabilities. The person in the wheelchair does not seem passive or robotic, but alive and determined. Compared to the stagnant figure constrained to the restraints of a wheelchair, the new symbol reinforces themes of life, energy, and determination.
People wishing to change their signs can easily do so with the help of the Accessible Icon team. Stencils and stickers are available online as well as connections to sign companies who produce metal signage with the new symbol. Direction toward buying proper paint and instructions for spray painting can be given by email or mail. Once an institution gains permission and agrees to switch the new sign, institutions generally plan an event around the painting. Members from the community join in discussion and painting, and lots of pictures are taken. At times, news services may opt to cover the story and ask community members questions about the project. The community should be prepared to answer why the Accessible Icon is important and why it makes a difference to people in the community.
Currently, the project is fortunate to have a number of partners who not only use the Icon in their buildings, but are also creating a stronger relationship with people with disabilities. For example, Partners like Clarks USA, Building Restoration Services, and BRS Cares are not only strong philanthropic supporters of Triangle but have chosen to increase their hiring of people with disabilities. Currently, multiple cities, businesses, hospitals, schools, and colleges in places such as Massachusetts, Washington, Arizona, North Carolina, Ohio, France, India, and the UK are engaged in a slow phasing in of the symbol. The symbol is being used when old signs need to be replaced or fixed and when institutions want to switch their parking signs for public support. The project is expanding across the United States and around the world.
The new symbol is part of a general attempt to bring about a public re-conception of what it means to have a disability. At the center of its design, the Accessible Icon was created to highlight movement. The artists intended the new symbol to raise awareness about cultural perceptions of disability and social inclusion in the US. Since people with disabilities are active and engaged in the community, the Accessible Icon Project believed it was necessary to represent people as such in pictorial form. Describing the new image with words such as: active, abled, engaged, ready-for-action, determined and motivated, the new symbol helps provoke discussion on how we view disabilities and people with disabilities in society. The symbol does not per se “represent” people with disabilities since not everyone is in a wheelchair, but instead represents that all people with disabilities can be active and engaged in the world.
Ultimately, the Accessible Icon Project wants the new symbol to spark conversation as well as illustrate the active and engaged role people with disabilities play in society. The new symbol should support disabilities advocates and help push for a more inclusive world. Changing the symbol is part of changing the universally accepted mindset about people with disabilities. Now people all over the world use the symbol to signal their wishes for more inclusive institutions, economies, and workplaces everywhere.
In a recent blog post, I discussed how times are changing for people with autism. While people with disabilities have traditionally struggled finding employment, certain companies such as SAP and Freddie Mac are actually seeking people who are on the spectrum. Temple Grandin, the most famous person with autism, gives a great Tedtalk on how the world needs all kinds of minds.
Moving Forward from a less-than-ideal icon:
Official Abstract for the Language and Linguistics Undergraduate Colloquium.
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, this paper argues 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, I argue that our symbols must progress as well. The Accessible Icon Project proposes 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 stimulates others to re-imagine the active role that those with disabilities play in society.
The Language and Linguistics Undergraduate Colloquium will be taking place at Gordon College on April 6, 2013. Details of the conference and presenters can be found here.
Hundreds from Israel and abroad convened in Jerusalem for ICare4Autism’s International Autism Conference. Below I included a short video as well as the news article covering the event.
Please watch this three minute video interviewing the founder of ICare4Autism. “We cannot give up on our children, especially children with autism. Everyone has a place in this world and they can function if you put in the effort. I like to use a four letter word, love…” http://youtu.be/6-W6GjIyPfk
Below is the article Yoni Kempinski wrote for www.israelnationalnews.com about the global event.
“The 2012 International Autism Conference concluded Thursday in Jerusalem with organizers laying out a detailed plan for ICare4Autism to lead the global movement to help those on the autism spectrum. After two days of intense panels and plenary sessions that included a thousand participants from over twenty different countries, ICare4Autism announced that it will focus on three key areas over the next twelve months:
“We will continue to work tirelessly to realize our dream of ICare4Autism’s new global headquarters on Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem, we will move quickly to implement a state-of-the art database system to allow families and caregivers to check information from various governmental and NGO offices in one place, and finally, we will work to implement a workforce initiative for training young adults on the autism spectrum and placing them in high-quality jobs,” said Dr. Joshua Weinstein, founder CEO of ICare4Autism.
Mayor Nir Barkat greeted the conference participants, presenting a detailed vision for Jerusalem in the years to come. “With strong research and care, we have the ability to send a message all over the world,” said the Mayor.
“Jerusalem is a powerhouse in health life sciences, and 50% of Israel’s clinical trials are conducted here. There is no doubt in my mind that ICare4Autism will be extremely successful in Jerusalem. We will make ICare4Autism a centerpiece for this city,” the mayor concluded.
Barkat’s greetings were followed by speeches from Dame Stephanie Shirley, the founding UK Ambassador for Philanthropy, Dr. Shekhar Saxena of the World Health Organization, and First Lady Marta Linares de Martinelli of Panama.
“As the keynote speaker at the conference, I was extremely impressed with the depth and diversity presented,” said Dame Shirley. She shared her own personal experiences with the participants, explaining how her family’s struggles in raising their autistic son encouraged her to become active in the global cause of autism spectrum disorder policy and awareness.
Dr. Saxena noted that “The key is collaboration: for NGOs, developmental organizations and social activists to work together to make a difference for affected families.”
“Jerusalem is the natural location for an event of this nature because the country has historically been a leader in groundbreaking neurological research. We saw it as imperative to expose some of the world’s top academics and public health advocates in this quickly developing field to the Israeli marketplace of ideas,” Dr. Weinstein explained. “We furthermore firmly believe that collaborations like these will lead to the breakthroughs necessary to best confront this condition and we are confident that ICare4Autism will be the catalyst in this global process.”
Over the two-day event, participants chose from fours tracks that focused on important disciplines relating to autism; “Policy and Awareness,” “Bio-Medical Research and Practice,” “Education and Behavioral Techniques,” and “Technology and Resources.” Each track featured top international experts in the designated field.
Some of Israel’s leading institutions of higher learning partnered with ICare4Autism in sponsoring the conference. These included Hebrew University, The Weizmann Institute, Tel Aviv University, Haifa University and Bar Ilan University. The Ministries of Health and Education also collaborated with ICare4Autism on the content of the conference.
Dr. Eric Hollander, a renowned psychiatrist at the Albert Einstein Medical Center in New York and the Chairman of the ICare4Autism Advisory Council, added that he sses the ICare4Autism 2012 Global Conference as “a unique opportunity for leading researchers, clinicians, educators and policymakers from all over the world to share their latest findings and create powerful new international collaborations that will ultimately allow us to discover the etiology of autism and its biologic and environmental causes. This global cross-disciplinary gathering will play a vital role in speeding the development of improved methods of autism detection and treatment that are urgently needed by patients and the families.”