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The Story of the Accessible Icon Emoji: iOS 10 Update

  • Synopsis: Published: 2016-08-16 - New emojis added to the Apple iOS 10 update - this story shares the history of the accessible icon emoji. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Leah Serao at

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

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.

Author: Leah Serao

Bio: 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

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