Guest / Limited Access /
The 'Handicap Icon' Gets New Life

Symbols shape our perceptions. A large swoosh on a stranger's T-shirt lets us, in a fraction of a moment, decode the logo to make an almost-instantaneous assessment of its wearer. Symbols are instinctually familiar, whether the contemporary shapes of the Playboy bunny or Hello Kitty or the traditional Christian cross.

The power of symbols to affect the way we perceive others drove Gordon College professor Brian Glenney to revisit the decades-old "handicap icon" we all recognize from parking spaces and bathroom stalls.

Glenney, 39, teaches philosophy at the Wenham, Mass., school and teamed up with Cambridge-based artist and researcher Sara Hendren for The Accessible Icon Project. (Hendren happens to be my sister-in-law.) Starting in 2009, they worked together to design and promote a new symbol of access that—unlike its predecessor—depicts people with disabilities as dynamic and forward-moving. The new icon made national news in May, when the city of New York adopted it as its official symbol of access.

In a recent interview, Glenney and I talked about our culture's perceptions of people with disabilities, the power of symbol, and why these issues matter for Christians.

Talk about how you became involved in this initiative. Do you have a personal connection to someone who lives with a disability?

I'm not a self-advocate or a parent advocate. I do not have a close relationship with someone who self-identifies as "disabled," but I get angry when I see people being stigmatized and disempowered, period. The Accessible Icon Project is the result of an urgent feeling of anger at a society that de-humanizes people with disabilities. Our new symbol is a conversation starter ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Current IssueDon’t Miss Steven Curtis Chapman’s Point
Subscriber Access Only
Don’t Miss Steven Curtis Chapman’s Point
Even his happiest, most heartwarming music has been fueled by tragedy and pain.
RecommendedWhat is the origin of the Christian fish symbol?
What is the origin of the Christian fish symbol?
A closer look at the ancient Ichthys
TrendingAll 240 Family Christian Stores Are Closing
All 240 Family Christian Stores Are Closing
More than 3,000 employees in 36 states will be laid off in the liquidation of one of the world’s largest Christian retailers.
Editor's PickMy Missionary Great-Grandfather Led Me to Christ
My Missionary Great-Grandfather Led Me to Christ
But only after I went to Japan in search of his life story.
Christianity Today
The 'Handicap Icon' Gets New Life
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

June 2013

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.