COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio didn’t have time to put ink to sheet metal — let alone allow it to dry — on new handicap-accessible signs before state lawmakers scrambled to reverse their decision to depict a revamped “dynamic” character, in response to a federal warning.

Tucked amid dozens of higher-profile amendments to the transportation budget, including the much-ballyhooed increase in the gas tax, was a provision to require the Ohio Department of Transportation to use a new logo for the “international symbol of access” when replacing those signs.

Instead of the traditional upright white outline of a character on a blue background, the new one would “depict a dynamic character leaning forward with a sense of movement.”

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Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, a Richmond Heights Democrat, pressed for the amendment after discussing it with a friend who has multiple sclerosis.

“He just took offense to the fact that the signage that we use to indicate that someone is in a wheelchair showed a person sitting long and tall and erect in the chair waiting for someone to push them, like they were totally dependent on somebody else,” Yuko said. “He said he saw a sign that showed the person leaning forward in the chair, almost indicating that they’re self-mobilized and they can get around without anybody’s help.”

But the Federal Highway Administration wrote to ODOT Director Jack Marchbanks in June warning the state that it risked losing federal funding because the new sign would violate its rule that traffic control devices be “unmistakably similar” to those in its manual.

Now, the state Senate is attempting to reverse the transportation budget amendment with another revision, this time to the operating budget. Lawmakers approved an interim budget that expires Wednesday.

ODOT spokesman Matt Bruning said the state did not print any of the new signs, which probably would have been used in state-managed rest areas and in other parking lots, such as ODOT’s headquarters.

The long-used international symbol of access was created in a design competition and adopted by the independent International Organization for Standardization in 1968. The sign has come under scrutiny in the past few years, though, with a few groups seeking to change it.

In 2015, the Federal Highway Administration issued a memo in response to requests by state and local authorities to change the symbol, noting the “dynamic” design had not been vetted or adopted into its official manual.

The U.S. Access Board, which writes federal rules on accessibility, released guidance in 2017 that said the symbol would meet standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act only if it results in “substantially equivalent or greater accessibility and usability.”

Yuko says those are bad reasons to reject a design that people with disabilities have asked for.

“To take away the signage and the dignity that comes with it, and showing them total disrespect by telling them, ‘You’re not going to get that’ — to me, that’s everything wrong with this country, and (they) don’t take into consideration people and their feelings. You’ve already been banished to a lifetime of frustration, and now we’re going to make it worse,” Yuko said.

© 2019 The Columbus Dispatch
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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