Should Britain look at introducing a more dynamic wheelchair sign?

The global symbol for disability – a straight-backed stick person in a wheelchair – is to be changed. James Moore assesses the new design

It’s the symbol for disability known the world over - the blue sign featuring a straight backed figure in a stylised wheelchair. New York State is now just one step away from banning it. Lawmakers there want to see it replaced with a more “dynamic” version, featuring a wheelchair in motion.

The term “handicapped” - widely considered to be derogatory and mercifully less common on this side of the Atlantic than in the US - would also be removed. However, the law will only apply to signs installed after its implementation, always assuming it gets passed by the Governor, Andrew Cuomo, following its approval by a Democrat controlled Assembly and now the Republican led senate.

But should Britain look at introducing a more dynamic wheelchair sign? Having a mobility impairment as a result of a cycling accident, my first reaction to the new sign was very positive. For me, the narrative it displays is more positive, and less passive, than the existing sign and it therefore challenges lazy perceptions of the disabled held by the able bodied.

It is a view broadly shared by Liz Sayce, the chief executive of Disability Rights UK, although she has an important qualification to add: “There are more than 11 million people classified as living with a disability of some sort in the UK, but the vast majority are not wheelchair users. The chase is still on for a sign that can capture a range of disabilities.”

That is an issue picked up by the writer Selina Mills, who is legally blind and whose book ,“The Life Unseen - The Story of Blindness” , comes out next year. Mills, too, likes the idea of a sign featuring a figure that is not static, but says that there is a widespread, and unhelpful, perception that you must need a wheelchair if you have an impairment, perhaps encouraged by the universal use of the blue wheelchair sign.

“I just came back from Chicago Airport where they weren’t prepared to give me any assistance unless I was prepared to go in a chair,” she says. “That’s something you come across a lot in airports. It’s like I’m a liability if I happen to be walking around with a disability. I have to be contained.”

Mills, however, does point out that there are increasingly signs available to depict impairments to functions other than mobility, such as the eye symbol for blind people, and an ear for the hearing impaired. The eye symbol itself is a more inclusive replacement for the sign featuring a male figure with a cane, or a dog, that was its predecessor.

The dynamic wheelchair does not, however, find favour with everyone. Ricky Cahill, a team mate of mine from the Frenford Falcons Wheelchair Basketball Club, thinks replacing the existing symbol is a waste of time. “I can’t see why you’d want to change it,” he says. “The old one works fine, everyone knows it and what it means. It’s purely a symbol. Leave it as it is. If it’s changed everyone will have an opinion on what it should be now and you’ll never find a middle ground. It’s just not possible.”

John Thornton, an activist with Transport for All, which campaigns for accessible transport, designed his own “dynamic” chair, which featured on a map of disability-friendly Tube stations (there weren’t many) that he produced to put pressure on Transport For London during the 2012 Paralympics. He tried to make his figure less male, and later found that a Canadian designer had come up with a similar idea.

But Thornton, too, has misgivings about a wholesale move towards a dynamic chair sign. He points out that not all wheelchair users can self propel their chairs. The new sign, he argues, could be seen as weighted to the more active people at the top of “the hierarchy of disability”. “There are some good arguments not to adopt the dynamic wheelchair symbol,” he says. “And, anyway, it’s meaningless unless it is backed up by positive attitudes towards disabled people.”

Nonetheless, it looks as if those visiting New York State over the coming years will get the chance to see the new sign in action, and make their own minds up. On balance, I still favour it. But Thornton’s point about attitudes is extremely well made.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
Tax now accounts for ‘nearly 80%’ of the price of a bottle of whisky
news

Arts and Entertainment
Peppa Pig wearing her golden boots
film

"Oink! Oink! Hee hee hee!" First interview with the big-screen star

Life and Style
tech

Biohacking group hopes technology will lead people to think about even more dystopian uses

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior .Net Application Developer

    £40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

    £14000 - £17500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful applicant will b...

    Recruitment Genius: Continuous Improvement Manager

    £41500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...

    Recruitment Genius: Data Entry Administrator

    £10670 - £16640 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee