OCAD University

Reimagining Accessibility Design Challenge launched


David Onley, Jutta Treviranus, Dr. Sara Diamond. Photo by Martin Iskandar
Jutta Treviranus, Director, IDRC, Hon. David D. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Dr. Sara Diamond, OCAD U President. Photo by Martin Iskandar.
A major international student design challenge to reimagine the traditional symbol of access launched at OCAD U’s Inclusive Design Research Centre on Friday, September 20 with an announcement by the Honourable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, and OCAD U’s President, Dr. Sara Diamond. All post-secondary students are invited to enter.

"Today is the beginning of an exciting challenge to modernize the traditional blue wheelchair symbol," said Onley. "Fewer than three percent of people with disabilities use a wheelchair or, as I do, an electric scooter." As a result, the wheelchair symbol reflects only a tiny fraction of the community. "It is neither welcoming nor inclusive," said Onley. "Let's make the stick figure a real person and turn the symbol into a welcome sign."

The International Symbol of Access was introduced 45 years ago. Its original designer was Susanne Koefoed, then a Danish graphic design student who submitted an original design to a competition hosted by the Scandinavian Design Students Organization. Karl Montan, the first director of the Swedish Handicap Insitute and Chair of the RI International Commission for Technical Aids (ICTA) modified Koefoed’s original simple motif of a stick figure using a wheelchair (he added a head to humanize it), and it was endorsed by the World Congress in Dublin. The symbol was then officially recognized by the International Standards Organization and universally adopted by the United Nations.

Although the symbol is an iconic international standard, much has changed since 1968:

• Less than three per cent of persons with disabilities in Ontario use a wheelchair or electric scooter for mobility purposes

• The reality of disability is now understood to be multifaceted

• The potential for accessibility evolved and encompasses more

• Technology advanced dramatically

The goal of the Reimagining Accessibility Design Challenge is to replace the traditional wheelchair sign, nicknamed "blue wheelie," with a more encompassing and inclusive symbol (or symbols) of accessibility.

"Let's turbo-charge blue wheelie into the 21st century," said Onley, who added a new symbol should let people know that "no matter your access needs you are welcome here."

Competition details

The competition is open from now until October 25. Winners will be announced on November 1 in the presence of Her Royal Highness, the Countess of Wessex, who will be visiting Ontario. The final designs will be presented to the International Standards Organization for consideration.

A first prize of $5,000 will be awarded, along with two honourable mentions of $2,500 each.

View the contest introduction.

How to enter

Details and rules

Register to enter the contest

Use #AccessSign on Twitter to share and view designs

Follow LGDavidOnley and OCAD U on Facebook and Twitter for updates

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