Accessibility's New Look Rolls Across NYS
by Zach Hirsch
- Updated from a September 2014 story
- Photo taken by us here in Buffalo, NY, after seeing that the new symbol has made it as far across NYS as Western New York this month.
New York State lawmakers decided to give the handicap parking symbol an update in summer 2014. By 2016, new signs at state facilities will replace the ubiquitous, late 1960s-era wheelchair icon with a wheelchair in motion and remove the word "handicapped."
State Senator David Carlucci, a Democrat from Rockland County and one of the bill’s lead sponsors, said in June, “The term ‘handicapped’ is outdated, derogatory, and just plain out offensive. We need to remove barriers and transform our symbol of ‘handicapped,’ ‘disabled,’ into an accessible icon.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law in July 2014. According to the measure’s sponsors, this makes New York the first state to adopt a new symbol. That means all state institutions are required to update their signage. The change is already underway at SUNY Plattsburgh, but not everyone is on board.
Accessibility advocates have said for the past few years that the icon is due for a big change–and now, in New York State, it’s going to look a little more human. The figure will be in a racing wheelchair and signage will say “reserved” or “accessible,” not “handicapped.”
“The person is leaning forward to denote that individuals with disabilities still have an active role to play in the community, and they still have active lives and it’s not just sitting in a chair and letting life pass by you.” Dr. Michele Carpentier is the Director of Special Programs at SUNY Plattsburgh. It is her job to make sure students with disabilities feel at home on campus. She said the new graphic will help.
“Symbols change with the taste and the times. I think the new symbol is more indicative of how individuals that use assisted devices now are seen in the society as opposed to 20 or 30 years ago, where, if you were in a chair, it was kind of all about your chair. Now it’s more all about the person.”
Carpentier’s response to those who might say, “Oh, what’s the difference, it’s just political correctness?” is, “Well, it may be political correctness, but sometimes political correctness is the right thing to do!”
There has been widespread support for the change from groups like the New York Association on Independent Living, Our Ability, and the Self-Advocacy Association of New York State. But at least one disability advocate said the new signage is missing the point. “This is such a huge face plant for me,” said Wil Hansen, a Morristown-based, professional presenter on accessibility issues. “It just, it bugs the living daylights out of me.”
Hansen has spastic diplegic cerebral palsy. He uses a wheelchair but mostly walks with crutches and braces. When it comes to accessibility issues, Hansen said you have to have a sense of humor. The new law will make people reticent, he said, unnecessarily afraid of offending people with disabilities.
“A certain group of advocates stand up when they say ‘The previous sign was offensive to people with disabilities.’ I’m like, ‘I didn’t get that memo.’ So yeah, I think this hyper-political correctness on it is unnecessary. It’s no fun. It separates people.”
Carpentier said whether the old symbol was offensive, the law is the law. She says SUNY campuses and all state buildings have 18 months to comply.