Symbols are a way of life. Most people can recognize Batman’s symbol, which is an emblem of a bat usually surrounded by a yellow oval. Other symbols hold a lot of meaning for people, such as the heart symbol, which represents love, or the peace symbol, which represents peace. Symbols are important because they communicate a message. An issue with symbols is that the message may be misunderstood or misrepresented, which leads to all sorts of problems.
In the disability world, a symbol plays a significant role in society. A universal symbol has been adopted by the United Nations to represent the disability community. The symbol is a person in a wheelchair, and it is universally recognized across the world as the handicap symbol. In most parking lots, this symbol will be found designating parking spots that provide accessibility to persons with disabilities. The symbol is also found in most public buildings to designate handicap accessible bathrooms. As a result of this acceptance, most of society recognizes the handicap symbol as a designation that identifies an area that is disability friendly.
At the moment, it is extremely difficult for a person with a disability to know what businesses is actually disability friendly because universally the symbol represents accessible parking and bathrooms, which are crucially important, but accessibility goes beyond the parking lot and the bathrooms. What if the layout of the business does not allow a wheelchair to move around? What if the staff members of the business are not welcoming or accommodating? As a result, a person with a disability pulls into a business with accessible parking and assumes the business will be accessible. Oftentimes, the result is a disappointing one; that is, the business is not accommodating and loses potential customers.
Expand the Meaning
I propose we take the handicap symbol a step further. The symbol should not only identify accessible parking and bathrooms, but also an accessible business and staff persons who have been trained on accommodating the disability community. Imagine a person with a disability who is traveling and uses the Yelp app to identify a potential place to visit. The person begins to look for the handicap symbol to identify a business that welcomes the disability community. Or imagine the handicap symbol on the front door becomes a sign to the disability community that a business is prepared to accommodate their needs.
If the handicap symbol could become a symbol that identifies accessible businesses, then not only does the disability community benefit but so do the businesses. An estimated 56 million Americans have disabilities, and I am guessing that most of them do not feel welcome in public places. The disability community desires to become contributing members of society, and I believe most of society would welcome the disability community. The handicap symbol has set a standard, now let’s take that standard up a notch.
Stephen Taylor, SNs360 Founder