Symbol for disability or for access?

four white figures on a blue background showing a man and woman with a square head and a man and a woman with a misshapen head“Does the international symbol for disability need to be rethought”? is the title of an article in the FastCompany blog. First question this raises is, “Is it a symbol for disability or a symbol for access?”  Actually, it is a symbol for access, not disability.. The article proposes a variety of symbols for different disabilities. But do we need more symbols and if so, what purpose would they serve? 

Some people might like to have a symbol they can relate to if they are not a wheelchair user. But could another symbol further stigmatise? For example one of the proposed symbols shows a person with half the head missing. Another shows a square head. Currently the universal and international symbol for access is more about buildings meeting legislative compliance than trying to send a message about different disabilities. The aim of universal design is to not need more symbols and labels, but to need them less. Have a look at the article and see what you think about the proposition of a multitude of symbols.

Editor’s note: During my Churchill Fellowship in 2004, I visited Rehabilitation International (now RIA Global) which ran the competition in 1969 for the international design. They agree that over time this symbol is not the best representation, but difficult to change now. It is the most recognised and understood symbol in the world.