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The Kid Should See This

What does the wheelchair symbol actually mean?

Some of the world’s most recognizable symbols exist to sell products. Others, to steer traffic or advance political causes. But there’s one whose main purpose is to help people. You may know it as the wheelchair symbol, but its formal title is the International Symbol of Access. But what does the symbol actually mean? And what is its purpose?

This global symbol, sometimes referred to as the wheelchair or ‘handicap’ symbol, was locally updated both formally and informally in 2014 to depict a more dynamic and active posture. It’s even an emoji. But associating human impairments with the wheelchair alone has been challenging for those with disabilities who do not require a wheelchair.

In 2011, the World Health Organization estimated that one billion people around the globe experience some form of disability, yet people who use wheelchairs are estimated around 65 million. Is the current symbol appropriate for what it’s meant to do? Is there a symbol that could better represent accessibility? This TED Ed by Adrian Treharne explores these questions.

Next: Jerry Ford’s automatic wheelchair brake device, Behind the Signs: A Look at the DOT Sign Shop, and Sesame Street’s How Communication Works.

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