21 February, 2011

thinking more about "updating" the wheelchair symbol

re: this

I think that because it’s primarily used to indicate stuff like extra space, shorter distances, and seating, it isn’t as vital that it be inclusive of mind disabilities. To my knowledge the people who are most hurt by the current symbol (in terms of the attitudes it promotes) are people who need those things, but don’t use mobility aids, who can for example be pressured to stand up and give the “disabled seats” to someone else. I remember there being a few posts on FWD/Forward by contributors with fatigue, pain, and mobility disabilities who have experienced this. Obviously this is challenging to fix because it’s hard to make a picture that immediately communicates CFS/ME or something like that. And I also think that because the current symbol is so familiar, changing it to something like the open door would create a lot of problems.

So I think that the best symbol would be something like this (except done by someone who can actually draw):

drawing of a person in a wheelchair, drawn in the style of the usual disability symbol, next to a person with a cane and a person with red lines coming from their back and leg

This is much cheesier than the cool-looking person pushing their wheelchair, but I think it could work because it:

1. keeps the original symbol that people are familiar with, so they know immediately that it’s a “disabled access” sign (sorry the wheelchair user looks so weird, I was trying to point their hand so they could be reaching for their joystick but they just ended up looking depressed)

2. shows a person with pain in their back and leg, which brings in the idea of people who don’t use mobility aids and reminds the viewer that such people might also be among those who need the seats, parking spots, etc.

3. shows people with different kinds of impairments to remind the viewer that there is more than one disability that would cause someone to need these things, and hopefully suggest that there are even more disabilities than the ones portrayed here

#3 might be expecting too much of people, but even if people look at someone in the disabled seats and think “oh, I don’t see any mobility aids, they must have a bad knee,” that would still improve how that person is treated.



  1. This is a good idea. I think it would be hard to unambiguously depict pain, especially with a stick figure with no face, but it's definitely good to try to get people to realize that disabled people don't always use assistive tech.

  2. I love this. I will draw it eventually. And the tattoo thing. Aggh promises --> guilt.