(Note: All the opinions and anecdotes expressed here are specifically my own, and no-one else’s.)
I’m taking a brief break from the art world this week (sort-of) to discuss something a bit more personal. I stumbled upon this fascinating article a week or two ago about two artists who collaborated on producing what has become a new symbol for wheelchair accessibility.
Accessibility is not something a lot of people think about in their day-to-day lives. When you have the use of all your limbs, you’re not inclined to wander how you would reach such-and-such restaurant or movie theatre or apartment if you were actually confined to a wheelchair. And if you’re not around wheelchair-bound people on a regular occurrence, you may not witness the steps they take to move around in the modern world. I’m not blaming anyone for this, or saying it’s wrong or horrible – this is just my observation.
I used to be the same way.
Until the spring I turned 16.
On Easter Sunday, 6 days before my 16th birthday, I was in a skiing accident. I don’t talk about it much, and I won’t go into the details here, but suffice to say I was lucky to walk away ‘only’ with a broken leg and arm. Because of the extent of both of the breaks and thus the extent of the casts (full right leg and full right arm), I was given a wheelchair and told I would have to use it for at least the next 2 months, until my arm healed enough that I could use crutches instead.
I didn’t see my bedroom for those 2 months, because the stairs in my house were impossible to get up and down every day. I never returned to chemistry class for the rest of the semester because it was on the 2nd floor of a non-accessible building (no-one asked the 16-year-old if she wanted to sue for ADA violations!). I missed a scheduled trip to a fine-arts fair because the bus would not be accessible.
But these were just temporary physical limitations. For every thing that I couldn’t do, I found a way to get around it. Yes, you have to be resourceful. And yes, it is difficult. But if I could learn how to brush my teeth with my left hand after 16 years of doing it with my right, I could do anything.
It seems simple, but you would not believe how difficult it was to learn how to make those motions with my left arm.
This is why I adore this new symbol The Accessible Icon Project is producing. It’s a relatively simple change, but it conveys so much more than the previous static wheelchair figure. There is motion in this symbol, and thus it’s representing the ability possessed by all those in wheelchairs – they can do things and they are not “handicapped.” You may be wondering why you should care about the design of a government symbol, but the truth is is that this is such an easy change that completely revamps the public conception of accessibility. Everyone should care about this. Everything is accessible, so let’s make it that way.
So go to their shop, download the pdf of the symbol (it’s free!) or buy a couple stickers, and make your town or city more accessible. My 16-year-old self would thank you.