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Accessible Parking Signs – Development of the ADA Symbol

 Symbol and Color Selection
The symbol that the ADA uses to show areas that are accessible to persons with disabilities is called the International Symbol for Accessibility (ISA). The International Commission on Technology and Accessibility (ICTA) held a competition in 1969 to find the best symbol to use to show areas with handicapped access. A Danish student named Susanne Kofoed won. Her design is similar to the design used today; the ICTA used hers as the base to create the one that is now seen so universally over the world.
Susanne Kofoed’s original handicapped symbol
Susanne Kofoed’s original handicapped symbol
Kofoed's original design was missing a head; no one knows why that was so. The ICTA chose her design, but added a head for clarity. The next step for the ICTA was coloring; they needed something that would catch the eyes of others. A specific color was never chosen for the entire sign, but over time people settled on a white symbol, against a blue background. The blue frequently used is called PMS 293C, a unique shade of dark blue. Both the symbol and the color were adopted nationally after President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990.

Tweaks to the ADA Sign Symbol

Disability rights advocates have suggested changes to the sign over the years. There are two main criticisms: first, many disabled often do not have visible disabilities. Sufferers of agoraphobia, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder do not use wheelchairs or canes, but require accessible facilities all the same. Second, certain disability rights advocates believe that the symbol itself is outdated. They believe that the current design suggests a degree of inactivity and disability that belies how many disabled individuals truly function at work, on the sports fields and in the community. They believe that the symbol of a person statically confined to a chair is particularly insensitive.
Wheelchair Signs
Draft ADA replacement symbols from 1998
Handicapped Parking Sign
Current ADA Symbols for Handicapped Parking Signs
A new variant of this symbol designed by the Accessible Icon Project has gotten some traction, including official adoption by the state of New York. The new symbol is meant to convey how the disabled have a sense of control over their disabilities and how they act in public life.