Why Do We Need to See as Many Disability Signs as Possible?


Disability signs come in different sizes, shapes and colors. On top of that, every disability or group of disabilities have their own symbol.

There is one disability sign though that speaks accessibility more than any other, and as such it has become the strongest advocate for disability.

When talking about the various disability signs, one prominent sign to mention is the crossed-out ear and eye signs, which symbolizes sight and hearing impairment.

Another set of signs which are also common, are the sign language interpreter symbols. Especially the symbol with the two hands and the one with the man walking with a cane.

There are many other disability signs, but only one of them is considered to be universal.

The International Symbol of Access, also known as the International Wheelchair Symbol, appears in its standard form as a blue square with a white image of a person in a wheelchair.

The History

The symbol was designed by Susanne Koefoed in 1968. She was a Danish design student tasked with creating a sign to mark accessible accommodations.

At first her design depicted an empty wheelchair, which was widely promoted around Sweden. The then director of Sweden’s New Handicapped Institute, Karl Mountain, also promoted Koefoed’s design.

Mountain was asked to form a special committee to find and show a symbol to the Rehabilitation International’s convention in 1969.

They were asked to choose from six symbols, and when Koefoed’s symbol was shown, some of the members complained that it was too stark.

Mountain thus added a circle on the top of the seat in order to give the impression of a seated person. This is how the International Symbol of Access was born.

The symbol is maintained as an ISO 7001 image.

What Is It Used for?

This sign is mostly used in places where there is an improvement in access, particularly for wheelchair users. However, since it represents and is regarded as the universal symbol of accessibility and disability, it also represents improved access for other types of disabilities.

As such it symbolizes the removal of human-made barriers for elderly people and for parents with baby carriages amongst many.

Although the symbol represents omnipresence in this regard, there are specific uses for it, including marking a parking space reserved for people with disabilities and vehicles used by people with a disability.

This sign is also used to indicate a public toilet which is accessible to a wheelchair user, a transit station or vehicle that is accessible, a button that activates an automatic door, as well as a transit route using accessibility vehicles.

It Is More Than Just a Sign

In the over 50 years since this sign was made, it has become a true beacon of accessibility. Not only for people with a disability, but also for others finding the human-made environment hard to use because of its barriers.

However, for people with disabilities it is much more than that.

This symbol is one of the strongest and most visible advocate for the disabled community.