It started as an idea at a small Christian college in Massachusetts. Now it’s hitting the streets of New York City—and the denominational buildings of the Christian Reformed Church.
The new icon portrays people with disabilities as active and capable.
A new accessibility sign picturing an active, forward-leaning person using a wheelchair was recently installed at CRC denominational buildings.
“I saw the power of changing the way that this extremely common sign pictures people with disabilities: from passive recipients to active agents. That’s what excited me about it,” said Mark Stephenson, director of Christian Reformed Disability Concerns.
Brian Glenney, a philosophy professor at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., and artist Sara Hendren spearheaded the project.
Since its creation in 2009, the new symbol has gained momentum, catching on at many businesses, faith-based organizations, and even New York City.
The old sign features a static, upright, almost machine-like figure in a wheelchair.
The new image places more emphasis on the person, using a pointed arm and rounded limbs to humanize the figure. The torso leans forward and the wheel indicates active mobility.
“This is one simple way of reminding people with a powerful visual that people with disabilities are also active agents,” said Stephenson.
Crosswinds Community CRC in Holland, Mich., has installed the signs at their church as a way to be more inclusive.
“Someone arriving on our campus in a small way sees a welcoming invitation,” said Jeff Meyer, the church’s pastor. “I think it sends a more positive message in the active posture of the person indicated in the graphic.”
Stephenson said that buying a sticker online to replace the old icon is a small investment that can make a big difference at the local church level.
“Whether or not you buy the sticker is a small thing, but a lot of small things do add up,” he said.
Meyer agreed, pointing to the role of people with disabilities in the larger church.
“We are a church that strives toward inclusion and diversity,” he said. “We believe that’s a picture of the kingdom: all people belong.”