Skip to main content

The Story of the Accessible Icon Emoji: iOS 10 Update

  • Published: 2016-08-16 (Revised/Updated 2018-03-15) : Author: Leah Serao : Contact:
  • Synopsis: New emojis added to the Apple iOS 10 update - this story shares the history of the accessible icon emoji.

Quote: "By illuminating movement and motion, the icon celebrates where individuals with disabilities have come from and where they are going next."

Main Document

Symbols matter. At least that is what the Accessible Icon team believes. Started in 2010 by Sara Hendred and Brian Glenney, the two embarked on an adventure that kept growing as the community pushed for their depiction of those with disabilities to move forward.

What started as a grassroots effort turned into a worldwide ability advocacy when a transparent sticker was placed over an existing handicapped sign to show how the old symbol (commonly referred to as the 'handicapped sign') lacked motion. The orange sticker started a conversation that outgrew Boston and created a world-wide movement which spread in over ten countries and 31 states who started using the active looking symbol. In time, states such as New York and Connecticut legally adopted the Accessible Icon as the standard way of depicting those with disabilities.

Accessible Icon Emoji
About This Image: Accessible Icon Emoji
As it is the case of any symbol, one symbol simply cannot represent all the physical and mental qualities of a group, which is why the Accessible Icon more so represents an idea: that people with disabilities can be active and engaged in their communities. By illuminating movement and motion, the icon celebrates where individuals with disabilities have come from and where they are going next.

For many people around the globe, the new emoji represents a new identity. With the hands and the body posture leaning forward, the person sitting in the wheelchair seems determined, confident, and not constrained in his/her ability to move forward. Unlike the previously used emoji, which depicted individuals as machine-like and stagnant.

The decision to add the Accessible Icon emoji comes at a significant and profound time. Seeing Olympians overcome barriers internally and externally, you hear most athletes crediting their dedication, hard work, and achievements to the individuals who told them that they could make it. And that is what the Accessible Icon does for many: it tells them to go and take action.

Leah Serao
About This Image: Leah Serao
Throughout the time coordinating the efforts of the project, one of my favorite stories involves an individual named Brenden Hildreth who has both cerebral palsy and hearing loss. He must speak through a voice synthesizer and often uses a wheelchair, though he can walk, but with difficulty. Because of the Accessible Icon, he had an opportunity to speak with government officials in Massachusetts and North Carolina, speak during a radio show, appears on TV and be written about in countless news articles. The Accessible Icon became the platform he used to self-advocate and educate others. Branden is famous for saying that it is not his disability that makes it harder to reach his goals, but how others see his disability.

Now, since the Accessible Icon is more accessible for the everyday person to see and use, I wonder who the emoji will inspire, who it will anger, and who will now dream big. This project has always been in the hands of the people, and the people keep moving this active symbol forward. While the team celebrates this milestone for the icon, we continue to advocate for the full inclusion of those with varying abilities in the community and workplace to fulfill the core mission of the symbol: active inclusion.

Leah is the project coordinator for the Accessible Icon Project and a 3rd grade special education teacher in Marlboro, NJ. She is currently pursuing her masters in applied behavior analysis with an emphasis in autism. Leah is an active advocate for individuals with disabilities and writes at

Have Your Say! - Add your comment or discuss this article on our FaceBook Page.

Interesting Similar Topics
1 : Update to Building Accessibility Standard Provides Greater Accessibility for Persons with Physical Disabilities : International Code Council.
2 : The Story of the Accessible Icon Emoji: iOS 10 Update : Leah Serao.
3 : U.S. FCC Proposes to Expand Video Description Rules : Federal Communications Commission.
4 : Proposed Updated Accessibility Requirements for Information and Communication Technology : AudioEye, Inc..
5 : International Accessibility Guide Aiming for Accessibility for All : International Electro-technical Commission (IEC).
From our Accessibility section - Full List (21 Items)

Submit disability news, coming events, as well as assistive technology product news and reviews.

Loan Information for low income singles, families, seniors and disabled. Includes home, vehicle and personal loans.

Famous People with Disabilities - Well known people with disabilities and conditions who contributed to society.

List of awareness ribbon colors and their meaning. Also see our calendar of awareness dates.

Blood Pressure Chart - What should your blood pressure be, and information on blood group types/compatibility.

1 : Eating at Night, Sleeping By Day Alters Key Blood Proteins
2 : Interior Car Temperature Can Become Life-threatening for Children in an Hour
3 : 20 New Episodes of Letters to Lynette with Dr. Lynette Louise to Air on The Autism Channel in 2018
4 : Turnstone Center Designated as Official Paralympic Training Site by US Olympic Committee
5 : Help Your Child in School by Adding Language to The Math
6 : 50% of Retirees Saw Little or No COLA Increase in Net 2018 Social Security Benefits
7 : Turnstone Endeavor Games Concludes with National Records Broken
8 : Spinning in Circles and Learning From Myself by Tsara Shelton

Disclaimer: This site does not employ and is not overseen by medical professionals. Content on Disabled World is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. See our Terms of Service for more information.

Reporting Errors: Disabled World is an independent website, your assistance in reporting outdated or inaccurate information is appreciated. If you find an error please let us know.

© 2004 - 2018 Disabled World™