Hey, it’s me, the blogger back with a new post! Most of you of have seen this symbol right? It can be seen everywhere from public toilets to houses.
We know it as the wheelchair symbol, but its formal title as per the ISO( International Organization for Standardization) is the International Symbol of Access.
When I first heard about this, I was thoroughly confused. Everyone from my peers to even my Lawyer cousin were unclear as to what the symbol means. At a certain point, even I began to wonder, is this just some rumour spread through WhatsApp or a genuine fact? So I did some digging & what I found was really interesting.
One of the main reasons that people are perplexed about the meaning of this seemingly plain symbol may stem from how the symbol came about & why. In 1968, The International Commission of Technology & Accessibility held a design contest ( though I’m not sure how they would have had the time to say all that every time they gave an award) They were looking for something that would be recognizable no matter the distance( self descriptive), simple, practical & couldn’t be confused with existing symbols.
The winning design which for some weird reason didn’t have a head, was designed by Susanne Koefed, a Danish designer. With the addition of a head the following year made it more relatable & boy did succeed in doing that, because by the next ten years, it was endorsed by not just the ISO but by the United Nations themselves!!!
Without pizzazz or commotion, a global icon was born. But come the 2000s & even this simple sign needed an update. So the Graphic Artists’ Guild took it upon themselves & added more rounded, human-ish features. Then in 2012, The Accessible Icon Project came up with a more, shall we say, souped- up variant.
But this doesn’t really answer the question about this sign’s purpose. To put it simply, it is a sign which is used to indicate where there are accessible amenities like toilets or restaurants . The strength of such Globally recognizable image is that no matter the tongue you speak , the country you are in, or the clothes you wear, if you require such facilities, the sign shows the way. So the next time you decide to visit a foreign country & are caught in ” I need a bathroom” situation but don’t understand the language? Don’t worry, because the trusty wheelchair will show the way.
Ok, now you’re probably thinking ” If it’s that simple, then why is there so much confusion about this?” . That comes from the term accessibility & what it actually means. Many people assume that since the symbol is about a wheelchair, the accessible facilities are only meant to be used by those who use wheelchairs or those who have a visible physical condition. But accessibility is a diverse concept that applies to plethora of conditions, ranging from people with autism to autoimmune diseases, like lupus.
In fact the World Health Organization estimates that they are approximately 1 billion people who suffer from some form of disability. So look to your left & look to your right because statistically you live in a world where even your best friend could differently abled. And people who use wheelchairs make up only 15% of the total amount. The vast majority suffer from non-visible disabilities. So these accessible amenities have to be designed keeping this whole group in mind.
In recent years, several people have begun to question whether the symbol is really appropriate for what it’s meant to do. This is not just about encompassing the masses but also because people tend to be abusive & intolerant towards people without visible disabilities. This symbol, which was meant to unite the human race has sadly been warped & instead used to further divide us.
There is however a ray of hope. The recent redesigns have attempted to address the concerns about the current symbol. There is a growing acceptance towards differently abled people & this new generation of movers & shakers is to be given much of the credit. In order to highlight this & signal the beginning of a new era, some advocate a complete re-design, but it’s a strenuous task, how do you replace something that is familiar through out the globe. And what will be it’s successor?
I hope this post has given you a better understanding of this universal symbol & its origins. Hope you enjoyed reading this post & are eagerly awaiting more. Until next time, May The Force be with You.