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‘Handicapped’ Symbol Gets Facelift


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An effort to revamp the icon that’s long symbolized accessibility on everything from parking lot signs to bathrooms is gaining traction with New York City agreeing to adopt a new look.

New York City plans to adopt a redesigned

New York City plans to adopt a redesigned “handicapped” symbol. (Courtesy:

An updated version of the seemingly ubiquitous blue and white “handicapped” symbol will soon be plastered across New York.

Rather than depict a static person in a wheelchair, the new icon displays an active, in-motion version of life with a physical disability.

“It’s such a forward-moving thing,” Victor Calise, commissioner of the New York mayor’s Office for People With Disabilities, told The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Backers of the new icon, which was spearheaded by a philosophy professor at Gordon College in Massachusetts, say they hope that adoption by the nation’s largest city will lead to more widespread acceptance of the design.

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Comments (49 Responses)

  1. Gene says:

    That’s a great image and a wonderful idea. Now, how do you overcome the fact that it doesn’t meet the 2010 Standards?

  2. Patrick Maher says:

    Now if we could just gain some momentum in losing the term “handicapped” we’d really be moving forward.

  3. Patrick Maher says:

    Now if we could just get journalists to refer to the symbol as something other than “handicapped” we’d really be making progress. Maybe “accessibility” symbol?

  4. Leaping Larry says:

    As a person that has used a wheelchair for mobility since 1982 that was born with spina bifida.I really like the new sign and hope it is adopted by City, County, State, Nation and Internationally. :)

  5. Gael McCarthy says:

    I’m in an assisted wheelchair due to Polio when I was four. I am not sure that the symbol needs to be changed at all. It has taken years and years to get the world to understand the current symbol and respect the fact that a person with a physical disability needs assistance.

    I understand the part of the disabled culture that wants to be recognized as being independent, even with a disability. But, the new symbol changes the message. It says “I am disabled, but I can take care of myself”, which translates to the public as “Disabled people don’t need any special consideration—they can do it themselves”.

    That means the “able public” will be less sympathetic and helpful to those of us who really do need special consideration in public toilets, entrances with steps, and automatic doors.

    I fear this massive change is being undertaken to salve some disabled individual’s egos, rather than satisfying a need to educate the public. The current symbol works fine, a new symbol will cause confusion.

  6. Patty Sprofera says:

    Looks like the new “symbol” better buckle-up

  7. rsn says:

    I like the look of this new icon. How can we get templates, stencils, etc so that we can begin using this? Is it the ‘official’ emblem now?

  8. Lori Owen says:

    This is actually great. I love the new logo. I am handicapped myself and have no objections to the new design.

  9. Annie says:

    I would much rather see the funds for this used to provide the many services needed for those with special needs. They don’t need a symbol, they need funding! Stop the cuts. Provide more services.

  10. Jay Buxton says:

    I like how it. I agree with Patrick.

  11. Heather Hebdon says:

    What a terrific image. Now all we need to do is get everyone to drop the “handicap” insignia as it really is not as appropriate as “accessibility” or “perspns with disabilities” People first or just what it is used for.

  12. bigghankk says:

    hand·i·cap (hand’ē-kap) Negative or pejorative connotations of this word may render it offensive in some contexts.
    1. A physical, mental, or emotional condition that interferes with a person’s normal functioning.

    Handicap it is what it is and it only degrades someone if they let it i would like to see the money it cost to change it go to programs to help educate. It took me 3 1/2 years to find funds to covert my van so i can now be mobile it should not take that long to find any kind of help

  13. Gael McCarthy says:

    I’m, sorry. I agree with Annie. With all of the real issues facing individuals with all kinds of disabilities, why would you want to distract the attention of lawmakers, the public, and funding sources with a bru-ha-ha over an unnecessary symbol change?

    WHO exactly, decided the current symbol needed to change, and why? Who created the new design and initiated it’s adoption in New York? And as rsn asked, is it official? By whom? Is this really an issue we should be debating, or just something someone in NY thought would be nice?

    I guess we need more facts and background. This is “out of the blue to me”. Can someone shed more light on the issue?

  14. george says:

    wow ! with all the attacks and cuts against the disabled community we get this ? really? and we are excited about it ? pathetic. well with nothing left we can at least say we got something.

  15. Whoever says:

    The sign looks awkward. I’m crippled from being paralyzed and sick and tired of the Politically Correct, ultra-sensitive BS I read from you crybabies. I got paralyzed in 1979, which was PRE-ADA, and I blazed trails for you wimps. Stop being a whiner and go over, around, or through your barrier. The world owes me nothing, it owes you nothing. Get out of your house, get a job like I did, and toughen up!!

  16. Ellie says:

    I totally agree with Annie!! There are so many things that need funding and why fix something that is not broken. I really don’t think the general public looks at the signs and thinks anything other than, “Oh, this is wheelchair accessible” or “I shouldn’t sit in this seat at the movies, it is for a person accompanying a perosn in a wheelchair” , that is if they think anything at all.

  17. Anne Tynan says:

    New image brings to mind the Paralympics so looks up-to-date.
    Agree with Patrick about use of the word ‘handicapped’ – really rare to see the word used nowadays in the UK.

  18. RandyLynn Barron says:

    Just a thought folks. My son doesn’t sit on a street corner with his hat in his hand, hence the negative term “handicapped”. It conjures up ideas of complete limitation of an individual. My son says “If they need a label how about differently-abled?” What do you think?

    Gratefully yours,
    RandyLynn Barron

  19. jaime geiser says:

    it looks all right i dident think the old one lookrd bad it was easer to reconise in the public

  20. Andrea says:

    I suggest that the offensive term of handicapped be removed from all signs. When a parking sign says handicapped, I ask ‘what is wrong with it?’. The new sign does show that a disability does not turn you into an inactive life form!

  21. lisa says:

    I think its awful. Too much like the old one. It does not signify moving onward when cure is still making foundations rich and creating robots. This sign assumes a manual wheelchair is a disability. So very much wrong with that. I am paralysed and use a power wheelchair that requires more access ..turning around room often not considered. People use bathroom stalls as a place to put diaper changing in …which I hit .. or the other stuff hung on the wrong side. Many disabilities allow walking .. no wheelchair . High time people get educated and awareness elsewhere. Even trials take paras not quads because our spinal injury starts higher ..which use manual wheelchairs and can transfer easier .. drive regular cars not needing ramps .. we need a revamped parking placards .. license plates to get rid of abuse more than we need a new symbol that isn’t new at all. Great job spending money though.

  22. Marcia M. Swartz says:

    What about the person that does not always need a wheel chair (good days/bad days physically), but should not be walking more than 200 feet, etc.? Just wondering. I really like the icon and I wish more ppl would not be using someone else’s handicap sticker plus parking in handicap with no sticker. Ppl get ticketed for that if the volunteer HC police are still doing that. Thanks for listening.

  23. Rowena Macaulay says:

    In the UK we havent used the term ‘handicapped’ for many years, but many other aspects of language still get debated (I imagine this will always be the way, and arguably should be). There has also been gathering momentum for a change towards an active chair user icon, as discussed here. The one we’re promoting though is a little bit less active than the NYC version, and hopefully strikes a balance between the desire to depict movement and imply some level of user control on the one hand, and recognition on the other that we are not all super-fit, lightweight chair users any more than we are universally dependent.

  24. Electrick_Pink says:

    The term “handicap(ped)” will not change until more people with and without disabilities adopt more appropriate language. Some people may not have an issue with being referred to as handicapped, but as times change and progress, so does terminology. It’s only natural and should be expected in a civilized, progressive society. It’s like no longer referring to people with intellectual disability as “retarded” or people with Down syndrome as “Mongoloid.” Even restaurants and other businesses update their logos and fonts to keep from being dated. I declare, people will always find something to complain about. For those who don’t see this symbol change as necessary, I pose this to you: What can it possibly hurt? The change is not so drastic that people will fail to disassociate it from the original. I didn’t read anything in this article as to whether the work done to update the symbol cut into anybody’s disability funding. There are groups that exist to further many different aspects of the disability community, whether it be funding, advocacy, inclusion, education, etc. The people at Gordon College decided that this is something they wanted to do in an effort to influence a progressive change. Who am I to dictate to them what they should or shouldn’t do on their time? How do we know that anyone’s disability resources paid for it? Also, the updated symbol still accurately conveys that whatever space accompanying it is exclusively for people with certain disabilities. The wheelchair isn’t going away, and I do not see that the forward motion would indicate to anyone not disabled that it would be okay to use that accessible space. A wheelchair is a wheelchair is a wheelchair, forward leaning icon or not. I don’t believe that an updated (not new) symbol would cause any confusion at all.

  25. Bryce Jeffcoat says:

    Great, lets waste money and resources fixing something that isn’t broken…

  26. Kelly Doyle-Bucci says:

    the redesigned”handicapped” symbol which New York plans to use looks really good . I do hope that other states also plan to incorporate the newer design into their programs. the look of movement emphasizes the true participation of all people in the lives

  27. ajc says:

    It’s the international symbol for disability, NOT the symbol for active wheelchair users. It’s a universally recognised image that indicates where services for those with disabilities are located, it’s not intended to be indicative of an individual’s disability. It does not require changing any more than the symbol on the female toilets requires alteration to recognise the fact many women do not always wear skirts!

    Living in the west, I’m very fortunate to be an active wheelchair user. Across the world many disabled people face barriers, segregation, and a level of inequality I can barley imagine dealing with. If we have spare time to campaign for change, please, lets change more than a symbol.

  28. Gael says:

    You know, it’s interesting to read these comments. I became “crippled” from Polio in 1952. There were hundreds of thousands of us—and also wounded veterans. But you didn’t see us much in public. If you were “noticeably” impaired, you were kept very close to home and not subjected to curious stares and comments. And there were plenty of those. Over many decades and through the efforts of many parents, and enlightened individuals, we have come to realize there are many types of “handicaps”; both visible, and invisible. It was a BIG deal when the “Disabled” signs started to appear because it meant the public finally acknowledged our presence among them. Now, here we are discussing the pros and cons of one universal symbol that is supposed to define ALL of us. Sorry folks, we’re all different in our “abilities”.

  29. Gael says:

    I think ajc just said it all. Very succinctly, too, I might add.

  30. mARGARET says:

    How much money will it cost US to make this change.?

  31. Antoinette says:

    I am sorry but I do not like it. Not all of us in wheel chair propel ourselves! I also do not like how this person is leaning forward, and looks as if they might fall out of the chair! I do not think they should change anything. I find it offensive that it does not reflect all handicap people, like the old one did.

  32. Connie Moore says:

    I love that the “person” is active instead of the passive person pictured in the traditional symbol.

  33. L. Hicks says:


  34. Linda E Higgins says:

    Save the money and energy spent on making this change and put it to use paying for services. Put the artistic and “want to make a difference” ideas/talent to use by coming up with idea/talent on where to get funding. They don’t need a new icon. They need MONEY!!!

  35. Abby Doodle says:

    I am handicapped. This is a universal symbol we should not worry about feeling good –think of all the money wasted just updating it. That money could go for some service program. How stupid can you get. Use the money for real things. Just another liberal program that is suppose to make you feel good —but really gives you nothing tangible—–how sad.

  36. Norma Ortiz says:

    What a respectful, distinguished idea and campaign. I would like to be a part of promoting this new icon in Florida. This how show Nationwide and Worldwide. I also believe another word for “handicapped” should be considered. Thank you…it gives us pride and dignity.

  37. Brett says:

    I keep coming back to “who is this benefiting?”. Is it being done for the psychology of individuals with disabilities to be more independent, or, is it to change the assessment of those without that people with disabilities “are” capable? Regardless, as indicated by the distension in these ranks, every disabled individuals level of independence is different and there will never be one icon that will depict everyone needs; so why change? I also agree that the funding necessary to make this change could be better placed elsewhere.

  38. Paul Strand says:

    This symbol looks too handy capped: hand less foot less and contorted. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

  39. jorgi says:

    I have plenty to say , Christmas in New York , I was cursed out by a young woman for taking up to much space with my mobility scooter and then I was knocked over in the street , scooter and all .there I was laying in the street and NOT one person helped me .
    What NY needs instead of new designed sign , is some REAL compassion for the handicapped ! I love NY but I’ll never go back , I’m done with NYC !

  40. People First of SLO says:

    We are a non-profit group run by people with disabilities for people with disabilities. We agree that the new symbol is forward thinking and a great idea. We also adopt People First Language and prefer to use the term “Accessibility Placard” rather than “handicapped.”

  41. elizabeth dutton says:

    i think this should b a international symbol used all over the world

  42. Mother Klaw says:

    I have not understood the “wheelchair sign” from the beginning! Not only people using wheelchairs park in these spots, but people with ALL different kinds of physical disabilities that have a mobility challenge park in these spots, and let’s not forget all the senior citizens that choose to use the spots too! The “wheelchair sign” gives the impression to most people that a person is ONLY disabled if the need a wheelchair, which is just plain wrong! If they want to change the sign it should reflect people with different kinds of disabilities – including a picture of a wheelchair, a walking cain, the blind/hearing guidedogs, etc. – then the sign would truly be inclusive of ALL the people it is intended to help!

  43. kathy callahan says:

    OMG soon the meaning of the symbol and the label or name will not imply anything at all. I guess that’s good unless of course people with different abilities, need services and benefits due to the fact they have special needs!!! When funds are in the process of being cut well it’s not a good time to take the meaning away. It would seem time to educate everyone what the symbols and labels mean! I know changing the language helps clarify these things do not imply a pejorative. But lets get real.

  44. Julia Nixon says:

    I really want to change this symbol one day. New York supposedly made the handicap symbol better by showing a person wheeling themselves. That is not okay with me. A person does not have to be in a wheelchair to have a disability. I’m still walking with an invisible disability. Draw that.

  45. Bradlee says:

    It’s not going to cost anymore money. Services are not going to be taken away because a new logo is adopted. If it is adopted they won’t just change all the signs. It’s just if a new sign is put up it will have to be the new icon. Similar to how in California any new state government regulations or documentation can’t use the R-word. If an old law or document had it, they didn’t change it, it’s for new items only. Progression that didn’t cost a dime. Also it would also be nice to see that if people complain about an icon that they give impute on an icon they would rather see. Just to state I am not disabled but I am a direct support professional.

  46. Bradlee says:

    Also that the act of changing the icon is really doing more for showing that disable community is active more so than an having an active looking icon.

  47. Jenifer says:

    I don’t like the new handicapped sign. we are what we are. we just have to deal with it. a sign doesn’t define us. it never will. money whether government or private funds could be sent in a better way. ie services for those who are disabled. I understand that everyone has the right to spend money the way they see fit, but we as people are disabled need to be as independent as possible and help those who are less able them ourselves. the sign is just that a sign. the sign won’t really make us feel better, we have to deal with what we have and move on. Money usedto make the sign could be used to fund more service for all types of disabilities.

  48. June Larson says:

    Can this revised disabilities logo be used on a brochure designed to recruit students to enroll in an interprofessional disabilities services minor?

  49. Gene Thorn says:

    Really R folks so insecure their worried about something as petty as this. I’m handicaped and could care less whats on the sign as long as its functional. How about we spend that money on something else instead of getting people to focus on non issue items lets put that money to better use.

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