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Editorial: Newly accessible downtown should embrace new icon

Among the most important parts of the plan to redesign Concord’s Main Street is the dramatic increase in accessibility for people who use wheelchairs, canes, crutches, scooters or walkers to help them get around – and even for those who are just a little slow or unsteady on their feet. For them – and really, for all of us as we get older – the improvement may well turn out to be the most profound downtown change of all.

Given that, we encourage the city’s designers to also embrace a new symbol for use on parking spaces, parking garages, building entrances or wherever else they hope to denote handicap accessibility.

The old symbol, which has been around since 1968, is no doubt familiar to most readers: a gender-less person sitting still and strangely erect in a wheelchair. But two Massachusetts artists have recently created something new and powerful. And slowly, it’s catching on.

The new symbol, shown on this page, is the work of the Accessible Icon Project, created by Harvard graduate design student Sara Hendren and Brian Glenney, an assistant professor at Gordon College in Massachusetts. It’s an improvement on the old for reasons that become obvious and wonderful if you gaze at the icon for a moment or two:

∎ The head of the person (still strangely genderless) is tilted forward, indicating motion. As the artists explain on their website, “Here the person is the ‘driver’ or decision maker about her mobility.”

∎ The person’s arm points backward to suggest mobility. As the artists explain, “Depicting the body in motion represents the symbolically active status of navigating the world.”

∎ Similarly, the small cutouts in the wheels suggest action.

In short, the person in this icon is not confined by the wheelchair. He or she is not sitting still, passively waiting for someone to come along and push. To the contrary, the chair is making it possible for the person to zip around town – independently of others.

The old symbol – recognized as much for the vibrant blue background as for the design – is so familiar as to be invisible to most of us going about our daily routines. The new one would do double duty: It’s both practical and opinionated. It may well change the image many of us carry around in our heads about the abilities of people in wheelchairs.

Using the new symbol won’t violate the federal Americans with Disabilities Act; federal officials say slight variations on the old symbol are permissible as long as there’s a wheelchair and it signifies accessibility. Already, in North Carolina, a young man with cerebral palsy has joined the effort and has persuaded a local restaurant to use the new symbol in its parking lot. His next target: the local golf course. (He and his family are also creating T-shirts with the new logo.) And, more dramatically, the Accessible Icon Project recently persuaded New York City to adopt the new symbol; officials plan to replace old signs this summer across the city.

Concord should get on board. Our own downtown will soon be a much friendlier place for people with mobility challenges. New signs will help celebrate the improvement.

Legacy Comments4

Itsa, I have a foot in both sides of this issue. I have a disability a placard and there were times getting 10ft was a painful challenge. Thank God, I am past those days and pray to never return. I have a lot of sympathy for people with that level of disability. Most days I get around quite nicely but a "hot spot" inside the prosthesis can be cripple in hurry. That said, I am also in health care and work pain patients and know many severe disabilities are not visible on the outside. However, I say w/o hesitation, the abuse of this system (and being on "disability") is horrendous. I see way too many who say they "can't work" but are on snow mobiles, skis, PWCs and motorcycles every weekend. Most common complaint is back pain. Many suffer but too many, I see, say they suffer but regularly hike 4000ft'rs. This is a tough issue. I do think saying, "I hurt" even if said quite honestly is not enough for life-long disability. Many hurt but still function well; there is a difference between pain & suffering. . Functionality needs to also be considered along with "pain scale" (a broken ruler with which to make this measurement). I do not want to hear any allegations about, "You have no idea, do not understand or am not sympathetic" - been there and done that (and continue to do it everyday) for the disabled and the able-bodied* - we need to stop the abuse and waste. . . *able-bodied - a temporary state

The disability system has been allowed to go the way of many govt programs. It is not policed and has allowed the requirements to qualify for it to be a lot easier than they use to be. Sad part about that, is the folks who are truly disabled would receive a lot more money monthly, if folks were not scamming the system. Also, the fund for disability is about to go bust. Many have gotten on it because of the poor economy. Most of the folks I know who are on it are depressed. Depression is hard to prove. And what is even more disturbing is the fact that many who are depressed do nothing to deal with the source of their depression.

Rabbit, "depression based disability claims - yes. Bipolar is also the claim of the year and I agree, with less scamming -those who truly need - could get more.

Seems like everyone has a handicapped placard or license plate today. I wonder how many are truly valid. When grocery shopping I note that people jump out of their cars and sprint into the store, many have handicap plates or placards. If they keep adding more and more handicapped spaces, customers will be g a mile away.

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