By Jonathan Phelps
---- — WENHAM — The handicapped parking spots at Gordon College not only got a fresh coat of paint yesterday — they got a new look.
A professor and a group of high school students painted over the typical blue-and-white accessibility icons and replaced them with a more active and engaged symbol as part of the Accessible Icon Project.
The standard logo displayed in most places around the world — known as the International Symbol of Access — features a stationary wheelchair with a static stick figure. But the newly designed icon depicts a person with an arm in the air as if to push the wheels forward.
The project was started by Brian Glenney, assistant professor of philosophy, and Sara Hendren, a graduate student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
Glenney, a former graffiti artist, said the idea for the new logo came out of an art exhibit he did with Hendren in 2009 at the college. The new logo aims to challenge how people perceive those who are disabled, he said.
“The project is evolving the handicap symbol from a static stick figure into a symbol that is active and embodied,” Glenney said. “The symbol is actually called the International Symbol of Access, but everybody calls it the handicap symbol, and that is what we want to change.”
Part of Glenney’s inspiration came from Aaron Fotheringham, a 21-year-old from Las Vegas with spina bifida, who does tricks with his wheelchair at skate parks. His tricks have earned Fotheringham the nickname “Wheelz.”
Glenney, who is often seen gliding across campus on his skateboard, was looking up skateboard tricks on the Internet when he came across Fotheringham. Along with his philosophy duties, Glenney also teaches a non-credit skateboard class, which counts toward physical education requirements for students.
“I felt good about the symbol when I knew it could represent Wheelz,” Glenney said.
The icon grew out of two years of research in Gordon’s philosophical psychology lab, as well as advocacy in and around Boston, according to the college.
The private Christian College on Grapevine Road is the first college to switch to the new symbol, but the city of Malden and several corporations are committed to switching, as well. Those company’s include Talbots and Clarks shoes.
“It is really taking off from community centers, schools and businesses,” said Cyndi McMahon, director of marketing and communications.
Students from Everett and Chelsea High School joined Glenney in painting the parking spots. Part of the project is about including people with disabilities during the repainting of the spots, said Jeff Gentry, senior director of community partnerships for Triangle Inc., a nonprofit that empowers people with disabilities and their families to enjoy rich, fulfilling lives.
Gentry said the current logo seen in most parking lot looks more like a robot than a human.
“Most of the people I know with disabilities aren’t passive robots waiting to be pushed,” Gentry said. “They are powerful advocates who are pushing themselves forward, that is what this logo is all about.”
Maria Muir, 20, of Everett High said she enjoyed the experience of helping paint the spots.
“I learned new skills,” she said.
Gordon College students and staff last night placed stickers of the new designs on all of the handicapped signs on campus.
Glenney said he sees the newly designed accessibility logo being used internationally. A sign company has already reached out to the project looking to sell the new design, he said.
“Images are more powerful than words,” Glenney said. “So it is important to update the images we use to represent people with disabilities.”