Changing Perceptions, One Icon At A Time
June 14, 2013 1:04 PM   Subscribe

The Accessible Icon Project seeks to change public perception of the disabled by subtly redesigning the traditional blue-and-white accessibility icon. New York City is one of the first to embrace the new design.
Also: OpenDyslexic, a free font designed to lessen confusion between visually similar letterforms.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul (31 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thank you for the link to Open Dyslexic! I will be able to use it in my classroom materials to improve their accessibility for my students.
posted by NorthernAutumn at 1:08 PM on June 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Looks a little off to me, like a jumble of body parts being sucked into a vortex.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:15 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Meta on OpenDyslexic.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:18 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow! Fantastic idea, that is so much better than the old logo (I looked it up for reference).
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 1:21 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Look at that person go! I never thought it was possible until now.
posted by michaelh at 1:41 PM on June 14, 2013


The old one may not be ideal, but that also may not be the best replacement. As an able-bodied person who interacts with wheelchair users semi-regularly, that just looks like a random glomp of lines at first glance.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:44 PM on June 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


VROOM!
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:47 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's a good idea, but it really needs to go through a few more design iterations before it gets adopted for wider use. It just has the look of a design-school one-off instead of a refined icon. I think the location of the stencil wheel knockouts is the biggest flaw; to my eye they should be flush with the lines of the body and leg.
posted by stopgap at 1:54 PM on June 14, 2013


Looks a little off to me, like a jumble of body parts being sucked into a vortex.

There's nothing particularly intuitive about the old design though, I think we're just used to it. Most simplified icons don't look very much like what they are actually supposed to represent.
posted by Think_Long at 1:58 PM on June 14, 2013


I think the leg being barely tilted off 90 degrees just kills the feeling of momentum and activity - it actually looks like someone who's stopped and is about to get up out of a wheelchair. If the "ankle" was brought back more to increase the angle, and the whole body was shifted forward of center on the wheel, it would give a much more active feel.

But I do think the current one works well as the variant you see on the taxi hood, because in that case forward momentum would make it look like the person is chasing the taxi down.
posted by jason_steakums at 2:09 PM on June 14, 2013


I agree it's a nice idea but not all the way there yet for general use. Something about the arms and legs all askew says "distress" rather than "has autonomy" (what I think they were going for.) I prefer the one on the cab where it looks like he's waving.
posted by bleep at 2:10 PM on June 14, 2013


By an artist I'm working with: My Dyslexia
posted by Artw at 2:12 PM on June 14, 2013


Something about the arms and legs all askew says "distress" rather than "has autonomy" (what I think they were going for.)

Once you see it, you can't unsee it.
posted by jason_steakums at 2:13 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's nothing particularly intuitive about the old design though, I think we're just used to it. Most simplified icons don't look very much like what they are actually supposed to represent.

I'm not so sure about that. After looking at the old icon for a bit, I think it's actually a fairly accurate diagram of a wheelchair (at least the hospital type), so it better communicates the idea of a wheelchair as an object (as in this is a place where you can use one). The proposed redesign totally sacrifices that. Especially the hailing a cab design, which might as well be an icon for someone sitting on a posture ball.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 2:14 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


6 Surprising Bad Practices That Hurt Dyslexic Users
posted by Artw at 2:24 PM on June 14, 2013


Still not in a wheelchair yet...

What I mean to say is I'm disabled, but not in a wheelchair. I don't even use a cane most days. The idea is good, but the implementation is problematic.
posted by strixus at 2:44 PM on June 14, 2013


Also, per that link Artw, I actually have the reverse of many of those. I have an easier time with serif fonts, with italics, and justified text, rather than the reverse. But I learned to read on a computer using a fixed width font, so a lot of my dyslexia issues are very, very weird.
posted by strixus at 2:46 PM on June 14, 2013


Abstract person getting captured by a pokeball...

Maybe they're throwing the pokeball at you?
posted by curuinor at 2:46 PM on June 14, 2013


OpenDyslexic is a champ all the way. I found out about it via MetaFilter, and passed the news on to a dyslexic little sister. She likened it to going outside with glasses the first time in her life and actually seeing trees had leaves.

Plus the creator is a really nice guy. I've been asked to help test 2.0.
posted by Samizdata at 2:58 PM on June 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


As someone who has worked in accessibility for a long time, I am of the belief that the physical inconveniences of disability are severely overstated in comparison to the social attitudes that we expose people with disabilities to on an every day basis. Which is to say, when an able-bodied person tries to put themselves in the shoes of say, a person in a wheelchair, they imagine things such as the frustration of having to avoid stairs all day long and end up adjusting their attitudes and expectations accordingly.

As well-meaning as this is, it's not very productive - you're putting someone with an able-bodied mindset into the life of a person with a disability. Which is to say, a person with a disability and accustomed to having a disability really is used to going out of the way daily and really is used to adapting themselves to a world built for the able-bodied. So not only is this mind exercise inaccurate in portraying the difficulties of disabilities, but also promotes othering of people with disabilities. We have to treat them more "sensitively", we have to give them "more allowances" and so forth, but ultimately, that means that we're not treating them as fully capable and fully human.

As someone who has spoken to and worked on behalf of dozens, if not hundreds of people with physical disabilities, it's always the accumulated social effect that ends up oppressing them more than their physical realities. It's subtle, but when every able-bodied person you meet ends up treating you somehow different from human, you start to notice and you start to get frustrated - this was the reason why I decided to stop wearing hearing aids and just develop my lipreading so I could "pass" as able-bodied, so I could stop feeling sub-human in every situation.

So I like the sign. Even if the efficiency is doubted, it sends a subtle reinforcement for people with disabilities - we're not passive, we're active, and our every day autonomy and struggles to survive in a world that's not suited to us are recognized as something that makes us no less independent or active than any other person.
posted by Conspire at 3:10 PM on June 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


Really, are people having that much difficulty with the design? I read the blurb here, clicked the link, and got it instantly.
posted by kavasa at 4:10 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Such is the treadmill of hyperreality; simple pictographs championed as containing so much distilled meaning or import that the (blasé) act of modifying them is elevated by some to be something akin to a revolutionary act able to legitimately or significantly change conditions for the real people that the icons purport to symbolize. It'd be laughable on its face, even if they had done a good job of it.

I'm no reactionary, and wouldn't at all mind a redesign -- as a signmaker I bet I've made ten thousand signs with the old symbol, and it's never thrilled me. I've never thought it as beautiful as some other pictograms from ISO 7001.

But this one? This is slapdash inch-deep design school woo... and the improvements,as described, are a great example of unwarranted self-congratulation from the small, delusional fringe that (noisily) lurks within the design profession.
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 4:20 PM on June 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Such is the treadmill of hyperreality; simple pictographs championed as containing so much meaning that the act of modifying them is thought by some to be able to meaningfully change the conditions of the real people that the icons purport to symbolize.

Yeah, it's sort of an iconographic euphemism treadmill.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 4:39 PM on June 14, 2013


the old icon [...] it's actually a fairly accurate diagram of a wheelchair...

Is that not the problem? A diagram of a wheelchair which fails to depict the human being at the core of the issue is just a diagram of a wheelchair. Look at the "person" in the old icon. Is that even a person? It's certainly a wheelchair. This is a big leap forward in my mind. Yes, it still largely fails to accurately represent people with an enormous diversity of accessibility needs, but the focus in the new icon is the person (I'm doing stuff!) and not the chair (omg, I'm trapped in a wheelchair and it has become my identity!)

I applaud this effort, and will be happy to see new iterations of this icon.
posted by shoesfullofdust at 5:30 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know, I kind of love the new icon. It's not vastly different, but gives off a way different vibe. The old icon is passive, the iconography screams "infirmed" and "I need help" while the new one evokes action and independence. The look of a fast moving chair says "get out of the way, I got shit to do myself" instead of what the old one conveyed.

It's not perfect by any stretch, but it toys with perception and I really like it.
posted by mathowie at 6:06 PM on June 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Look at the "person" in the old icon. Is that even a person? It's certainly a wheelchair.

The original version of the International Symbol of Access was just a diagram of a wheelchair. Someone later added a head.

I really like the design goals of the original symbol: "The stipulations were that the symbol must be readily identifiable from a reasonable distance; must be self-descriptive, must be simple yet esthetically designed with no secondary meaning, and must be practical." The new symbol sacrifices easy identification and self-descriptiveness in order to tack on secondary meanings.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 6:30 PM on June 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


As someone who has spoken to and worked on behalf of dozens, if not hundreds of people with physical disabilities, it's always the accumulated social effect that ends up oppressing them more than their physical realities. It's subtle, but when every able-bodied person you meet ends up treating you somehow different from human, you start to notice and you start to get frustrated

I have had this experience. Now, I have to admit that I have bad, redneck dental -- combination of finances and diabetes -- and this alone puts people off sometimes in person. Can't do anything about it right now, alas. I also have a volunteer gig where I prune back tree limbs and such on our city's multi-use trails.

Now, the second part is that I have two nieces who are in Special Olympics. They're both at the high-functioning end of autism, made it through school, and are living independently, so they've had nothing but the best, supportive environment. And I will tell you that it causes my heart to swell so much when I see how accepting and caring it has made them in return to those with other types of disability.

The third part is that one of my nieces gave me a Special Olympics ballcap to wear. I happened to randomly have it on a couple of times I was doing my pruning, and it dramatically affected people's interactions with me. Like, they all thought I was the Special Olympian, and needed to be spoken to slowly and simply, or with nonsensical encouragement and false cheer ("That's a great thing you're doing!"). The first time I didn't even realize it was the hat until I got home, the second time I ended up stuffing it in my pocket. When I don't wear that cap, I get asked where the trail goes, what the city's doing, even a simple thanks, that sort of thing. But all it took was the ballcap and, honestly, possibly my grill, in combination and by golly, I got to experience being othered. It's a small lesson I hope makes me a better human being.

modifying them is elevated by some to be something akin to a revolutionary act able to legitimately or significantly change conditions

Not conditions. Attitudes. Iconography communicates with people.

On a somewhat related note, I have fairly recently seen several wheelchairs-of-the-future in science fiction (Star Trek and the like), and it's quite striking that none of them envisioned mainstreaming of disability or modern self-propelled wheelchairs or anything at all like this.
posted by dhartung at 12:40 AM on June 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Accessible Icon Project seeks to change public perception of the disabled by subtly redesigning the traditional blue-and-white accessibility icon.

I was hoping this was going to involve redesigning the icon in multiple ways to represent the many, many other types of disabilities besides "in a wheelchair." This icon is part of the reason some people think that's where disabilities begin and end.
posted by jocelmeow at 11:44 AM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've used a power wheelchair for 20 years.

I loathe the new design.

Focusing on "humanizing" the old version is effort better spent on finding a pictograph which communicates "accessible." The old and new versions both communicate "wheelchair." Most people with disabilities don't use wheelchairs.

Probably the most common application for the "accessible" pictograph, (of whatever design) is its placement on the "Accessible Parking signs".

Most of those parking spaces are legally used by people with mobility or stamina issues. If one uses the space with the correct hangtag but without a wheelchair in sight, one experiences robust policing of the disabled/nondisabled boundary.
posted by Jesse the K at 11:44 AM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Adding to Jesse the K's point:

I have a variety of problems with my legs, and often can't deal with stairs. A couple years ago I was in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival, and my legs got very bad. I got more attitude for requesting elevators than I'd ever have imagined. How could i need that, since I wasn't in a chair?! Or howabout when you carefully select your reserved seat for the aisle (leg room etc) and they change it last minute, but don't understand you chose for good reasons.

I've refused to return to Edinburgh since, although I mostly blame the climate. It was a miserable stay last time, which was why I needed the accessibility.
posted by Goofyy at 8:46 PM on June 16, 2013


And again, with Jesse the K's point: having worked retail, I've heard all sorts of complaints about the people w/ handicap tags. People like to judge others with no knowledge :( Generally, I think people that need the tags get them. And catching the cheats isn't worth harassing the people that need it.
posted by abbiecodes at 7:00 PM on June 17, 2013


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