Iconic accessibility symbol looks set to change

There is the potential for the current international accessibility symbol of a wheelchair to be replaced – is this true and if so how can the industry respond? Douglas Masterson reports

It is true that there is an ongoing debate relating to the potential replacement of the accessibility symbol (currently depicted by a wheelchair) with a new symbol which would be seen as more inclusive. One of the drivers for the potential replacement of the existing wheelchair symbol is that some people who have a genuine need to use accessible facilities can often be challenged by members of the public because their disability is non-visible.

The GAI is currently working with the BSI Public information symbols committee, PH/8/2, to assess public and industry opinion on the international symbol for accessibility (currently depicted by a wheelchair) and the potential for it to be replaced by a new symbol.

Current symbol

This potential change would have a huge impact on all, not just those who are disabled and ambulant disabled and who use the accessible facilities, but wider society who would need to be educated in the change should it occur. In addition to this, those who manufacture and specify the relevant signage would be affected hence the specific interest in this issue by the GAI.

International competition

The International Union of Architects (UIA) and Rehabilitation International (RI) jointly invited submissions in 2022 for a 21st-century symbol of accessibility to represent their core values of rights and inclusion, independence, physical and virtual accessibility for all, including people with disabilities. The intent would be for this new symbol of accessibility to better represent the variety of people who use buildings and other types of built environments. It would therefore replace the existing accessibility symbol which currently depicts a wheelchair.

This potential change would have a huge impact on all, not just those who are disabled

douglas masterson

The competition invited professional architects and graphic designers as well as architectural and graphic design students to design a new graphic symbol of accessibility, to be proposed to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for adoption as the new international symbol of accessibility.

The winning entry of this competition was created by Ukrainian architect Maksym Holovko and was judged to be “easily recognisable, demonstrating originality of form while indicating an openness, simply and powerfully conveyed using basic shapes and principles”.

The winning symbol from the International competition that is now up for consideration by the ISO

This symbol has now been proposed to ISO Committee TC 145/SC 1 for inclusion in a future amendment to ISO 7001:2023 – Graphical Symbols, This is the standard which is generally applicable to public information symbols in all locations and all sectors where the public has access. It is important to note that whilst this new symbol has been proposed to this ISO Committee, it has not yet been accepted and the views of key stakeholders are being invited on this important issue. The closing date of the survey is 19 January 2024. 

Take the survey

The GAI and ISO UK Mirror Committee PH/8/2 are seeking the views
of industry through an online survey: www.gai.org.uk/GAI/News/NewsItems/2023/Replacing-the-accessibility-symbol-a-GAI-survey.aspx

Questions asked include the following:

  • Do you feel there is a requirement to replace the current accessibility symbol? 
  • What do you see as the key impacts on society including the general public, should the current symbol be replaced?
  • What do you see as the key impacts on industry, should the current symbol be replaced?
  • Having seen the new symbol what is your opinion of it?
  • Do you feel that the new symbol depicts accessibility? Please elaborate.
  • Do you have any further comments on this issue?

The results of the survey will be relayed to British Standards Institution BSI and ISO as well as our own GAI membership

The following article provides background on the existing symbol as well as detailing a need for a new symbol. riglobal.org/about/intl-symbol-of-access/

An online quiz based on this feature is available on the GAI learning Hub. Completion of this quiz is worth one CPD point. https://learninghub.gai.org.uk/totara/dashboard/index.php

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