History of the International Symbol of Accessibility

History of the International Symbol of Accessibility

You have seen it a thousand times. The International Symbol of Accessibility (SIA) is easily recognized by all and indicates, in simple terms, that a place is accessible. Do you know how it originated?

Symbols are part of human communication and represent our conception of an idea. Over time, our perception of some groups has changed and, consequently, it has been questioned whether the interpretation of the SIA is discriminatory. In today’s post, we invite you to learn about its evolution and the alternative icons that have emerged.

At the end of the 1960s, some countries already used different symbols to indicate the accessibility of facilities. Therefore, the need arose to create an international design to avoid clutter.

Norman Acton, former Secretary-General for Rehabilitation International (RI Global), saw the urgency of crafting an icon that was identifiable, simple, and practical for everyone. He then proposed to Karl Montan, President of RI International Commission for Technical Aids and first director of the Swedish Institute for the Disabled, to execute a project to make it possible.

Montan organized a competition among design students. Susanne Koefoed won with a simple representation of a person using a wheelchair.

Source: www.seventhe.es

However, Montan incorporated a circle in the upper part of the figure, in order to “humanize” it, and this symbol would be formally adopted at the 11th RI World Congress in 1969. It soon also had the acceptance of the International Organization Standards and the United Nations. Soon enough the symbol became ubiquitous.

Promoting universality

As Luis Bascones compiled in an article for the Spanish Disability Magazine, the SIA has received much criticism over the years. People say that the icon should be changed to make more types of accessibility visible (not only physical), which represents people with functional diversity in a passive manner and which only focuses on disability.

In 2010, Brian Glenney and Sara Hendren launched “The Accessible Icon Project”, where some changes were made to the old symbol. The figure has the body tilted forward and shows greater dynamism.

In some areas of the United States, it has been accepted because it is very similar to the already internationally known symbol and incorporates changes that make it less outdated.

Others reject it because it is ableist and still does not represent accessibility correctly.

Five years later, the UN launched a new proposal that no longer puts the focus on a wheelchair, but is more universal. A person is shown with open arms symbolizing the inclusion of everyone in society.

The UN collaborated with various organizations of people with disabilities on the design. It was also pointed out that it had a great advantage for its popularization: it is reminiscent of the famous Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci and the familiar symbol of accessibility that Apple uses.

Accessible hotels in Travegali

The SIA symbol on Travegali’s website indicates which hotels are accessible. We would like that one day the symbol becomes obsolete and all the facilities may be used by all people regardless of their mobility.

We would like to know your opinion. Do you think we should keep the old symbol or adopt any of the new proposals?

Sources: Rehabilitación Internacional, Spanish Disability Magazine, Corporación Ciudad Accesible, GNDiario

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