Signs of the times: Battle lines drawn over newly designed handicapped symbol

I am reminded of the tagline from the movie “Field of Dreams”: “Build it, and they will come.”

That was another time — literally. It was the last century, long before the current era, which is best typified by the slogan “Build it, and they will argue.”

The latest bone of contention is a redesign of the icon appearing on signs that indicated handicapped access.

The new sign, shown below, features a stick figure in a wheelchair, as before, but this time the individual is assuming a more active, lean-forward posture.

Handicapped Signs

While some advocates on behalf of people with disabilities like it, critics say it is “political correctness gone mad.”

The Daily Mail explains:

The updated symbol, designed [in 2009] by Sara Hendren, then a grad student at Harvard, and Brian Glenney, a philosophy professor at Gordon College in Massachusetts, was supposed to promote a more positive view of people with disabilities.

However, the changes have sharply divided opinions among the disabled community.

Elizabeth Guffey, a disabled professor of art and design history at State University of New York at Purchase, said: ‘On the face of it, it seems like a really positive step to take.

‘When you start thinking about it more fully, it brings up more questions.’

Guffey, who currently writing a book on the symbol’s history, said the backlash has been most pronounced in the UK, where some view it as American political correctness gone mad.

Others, like Cathy Ludlum, disability rights activist from Connecticut, say the new design is insensitive towards people with serious disabilities.

Ludlum, who has a neuromuscular disorder and controls her motorized wheelchair by using three fingers, said: ‘The old symbol leaves everything up to the imagination. 

‘The new symbol seems to say that independence has everything to do with the body, which it isn’t. Independence is who you are inside.’


Ben Bowles

Ben Bowles

Ben Bowles is a freelance writer and regular contributor to "Liberty Unyielding."


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