Why Are Wheelchairs More Stigmatized Than Glasses?
Improving the lives of disabled people is more than an engineering project.
In 2010, Sara Hendren began a guerrilla street art campaign. The assistant professor of design teamed with philosophy professor Brian Glenney to change the commonly accepted symbol for disability, called the International Symbol of Access. It shows a figure sitting in a wheelchair, on a blue background.
Hendren and Glenney thought the symbol made the chair look more important and visible than the person sitting on it. So they came up with their own version, in which the figure was leaning forward, elbows out, as if about to push off in some direction. The pair went around pasting a transparent sticker featuring their redesign over the old symbol in public places, so that people could see both old and new. Although the new symbol has not been formally adopted, it is being used by several educational institutions, private companies, and hospitals, and is part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Hendren studied at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, and, together with her students at Olin College in Massachusetts, makes assistive and adaptive technology for the disabled. But she is also interested in changing the cultural understanding of disability, pointing out that we are all on a spectrum of varying ability. “My projects awaken hidden or suppressed politics about ability, health, interdependence, and bodily normativity,” Hendren explains.
Nautilus caught up with Hendren this January.