Icon for Access | WBEZ
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Icon for Access

There is a beauty to a universal standard. The idea that people across the world can agree that when they interact with one specific thing, everyone will be on the same page-- regardless of language or culture or geographic locale. If you're in Belgrade or Shanghai or São Paulo, you can look at a sign and know instantly, without speaking a word of the local language, that this floor is slippery. That the emergency exit is over there. That that substance is poisonous, and you should not eat it. The group behind those internationally recognized logos is called the International Organization for Standardization. One of the most recognizable ISO symbols in the International Symbol of Access. You might not know it by that name, but you've seen it. The International Symbol of Access is everywhere--on parking spaces, on buttons that operate automatic doors, in bathrooms, on seats on the bus or at movie theaters. Anywhere there’s an indication of special accommodations made for people with disabilities. The logo was created through a design contest in 1968, coordinated by an organization now called Rehabilitation International. The logo would have to be readily identifiable from reasonable distance, self-descriptive, simple, unambiguous, and practical. The winner was a Danish designer named Susanne Koefed--though her original design didn't have a head! As the logo got absorbed into the built environment, and the politics of (dis)ability became more nuanced, some people started finding it a little lacking. So one group, the Accessible Icon Project, has created a new logo that they hope will ultimately replace ISO standard.

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