April 6, 2015Vol. 45, Issue 4

Moving Forward

Campus Adopts New Accessibility Icon

The Student Health Center was the first building on campus to incorporate the universal accessibility icon in its signage.

The Student Health Center was the first building on campus to incorporate the universal accessibility icon in its signage.

Students, staff, faculty, and others may have noticed some intriguing new signage around campus in recent weeks.

This change is even more recent than the gender-neutral symbols, which have been in place near restrooms in the Student Health Center and in Kendall Hall since last year, thanks to the Associated Students.

Those signs, which bear male, female, and gender-neutral stick figures, came in response to complaints last year from the LGBTQ+ community and allies about a lack of safe or comfortable facilities for all individuals. In a huge step forward for campus diversity and inclusion, restrooms around campus previously reserved for males or females have now been converted for use by anyone.

The new images accompanying the gender-neutral symbols on those placards are also worth noting. The icon previously used to symbolize wheelchair accessibility—a stick figure seated upright in a stationary wheelchair—is gone. In its place is a significantly more active figure: still in a wheelchair, but leaning forward, with arms bent behind. This person is going somewhere, and with purpose.

The changes are not random. They are the result of a policy adopted into the campus’ master signage plan last year which incorporates this new accessibility icon into all campus signage. 

Charlene Corder, an advisor in the Accessibility Resource Center (ARC), is the woman behind the changes.

“When we started this project, we were one of the few CSUs to consider adopting the new icon,” Corder said. “This is really critical, because some were concerned that it is ADA [Americans With Disabilities Act] compliant. Slight variations of the symbol are permissible, as long as the symbol clearly displays the wheelchair showing accessibility, and includes wording that’s clear and maintains the blue color.”

Corder was inspired by an article she read about the Accessibility Icon Project, which advocates for use of the new icon. Through research, she learned the icon was developed by a philosophy professor at Massachusetts’ Gordon College and a Harvard art student. Since then, organizations around the country, including New York City, have adopted it. “If NYC can do it, Chico State can do it,” she said to herself.

Using data compiled by student assistants, and working with other offices on campus, Corder put together a spreadsheet listing the locations of all campus accessibility signage. Next, she and ARC Director Sandy Parsons met with Division of Business and Finance Assistant Vice President Lynda Miracle, who helped them draft policy language and later recommended that language be included in the campus Master Signage Plan.

Because the signs are expensive to produce, Corder said, they won’t be immediately installed. Instead, as existing signs age or become defaced, they’ll be replaced with placards containing the new symbol. The new arts and humanities building under construction will feature all-new signage, she noted. 

Otto Construction foreman Nike Cane installs a sign with the new accessibility icon outside a first-floor restroom in Kendall Hall in January.

Otto Construction foreman Nike Cane installs a sign with the new accessibility icon outside a first-floor restroom in Kendall Hall in January.

For academic advisor Jason Stapleton, who assisted with the project and uses a wheelchair, the newly designed icon is a positive step in a larger cultural movement to change the way people with accessibility needs are depicted—and consequently viewed.

“From a historical perspective, there’re terms like handicapped or disabled, and some of those come from a very negative or inaccurate place,” Stapleton explained. “For example, there is a myth that ‘handicapped’ came from poor disabled people taking their cap off and holding it out to collect money.

“In so many areas, society is trying to move forward and be more inclusive and progressive. To move away from those images, slow as it may be, is a vital step.”

To that end, Corder and the rest of the ARC staff work continually to educate the campus community and visitors to use language, graphics, and actions which reinforce the value and capabilities of those with accessibility needs.

“I am shifting away from using the word ‘disability’ and moving toward using ‘accessibility,’” Corder said. “Although there are times that stating ‘the student with a disability’ is accurate, and it is federal language, it can be disempowering. Instead of saying, ‘the student has a disability’, I prefer to say ‘a condition that impacts their ability to perform certain functions.’”

The new icon, she says, communicates in an instant the underlying mission of the ARC: to empower people who face accessibility challenges on a daily basis. “This icon depicts that. It shows the person is active, moving forward. ‘I’m good; I’ll ask for your help if I need it,’” she said.

Look for the new icon to appear in more places on campus in the coming months.

—Sarah Langford, Public Affairs and Publications 

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