On March 15, the Nanaimo Disability Resource Centre (NDRC) proposed to City Council a change in “disability icons” in the city.


Richard Harlow, Board Director-at-Large of the Nanaimo Disability Resource Centre, holds a copy of the new ability icon. Photo by Marilyn Assaf

These new icons will be known as “new accessible icons;” they portray legs, arms, and body in a forward motion, suggesting independence, strength, inclusiveness, activity, and participation. To contrast, the current disability icon presents the person as much more vulnerable, immobile, and incapable.

The goal of the NDRC’s presentation was to replace every old disability icon in the city with the new one, in order to reduce the stigmas surrounding those with disabilities. If passed, it will be used on bathroom stalls and parking spots that are meant to have priority for people whom need to use those accessible spaces.

“We are not asking for change overnight, but we do hope that, when needed, this new icon will replace the old one wherever you see or need the Universal Icon of Access,” said NDRC Director-at-Large Richard Harlow.

The icon update addresses the stigmas surrounding people with disabilities, where there is much more focus on the human characteristics of the person rather than the assertive technology device—the wheelchair. This icon is also meant to help inspire those who do struggle.

“Some of these challenges they deal with on a daily basis are hard to overcome, and, with this negative stigma attached, it gets harder to overcome barriers that might be social barriers when the person with the disability feels ashamed and the community does not accept them for who they are, which, frankly, is a human being,” Harlow said.

“We hope that this will help educate employers that there is no reason to overlook a person with a disability because there is a large portion of people with disabilities that are either unemployed or underemployed.”

The icon was first designed by a group of graphic designers in New York with disabilities, and eventually grew into a grassroots movement. In Nanaimo, the biggest issuer of disability parking permits has already gone forth and changed the icon for motorcycle users, and members of AC Taxi have approached the NDRC to put the icon on all of their accessible vans. Harlow also brought the changed icon to VIU in December. Now, all parking lots on campus have the new icon and, as new signs need replacing, they will receive the updated image.

“Several Nanaimo city councillors were moved by the presentation and inspired to actually make change or champion this movement,” Harlow said. “[Councillor] Jerry Hong has said he plans to bring the new icon to his own establishment and replace the old icon.”

Harlow says the NDRC has been assured that City Council will pass the proposal to replace all of the city’s icons, and all members of City Council, including the mayor, have officially signed a petition on change.org in support of the new icon.

“It is far too often that persons with disability are left out, forgotten, or almost socially outcast,” Harlow said. “This icon addresses the thought that there is a perceived inability, because disability does not mean inability.”