Support groups for the disabled are frequently a lifesaver for people who have limited access to humans with sympathy/empathy for what they are going through. I participate in several online support groups for Meniere’s, the invisible disability that I am cursed with. The image above/right was posted in one of the private groups I’m part of; and when I went looking for the image I discovered it was all over the web in various forms, many of them heartlessly defaced by trolls who think that all the disabled people should get out and get a job, you lazy bums!
In the Meniere’s group where the image was posted one of the commenters asked why the third guy from the right is leaning on an upside down dildo. He made me laugh with his question, and we riffed on that back and forth for awhile. But the question got me thinking, which is why I went online looking for the origin of the image and stumbled across all the troll variations of it and the casual cruelty of the unafflicted that comes with that territory.
International symbology is one of those things that, having once been an architect, I have an inside track on understanding. Here’s what the symbology means, officially:
- Arm missing
- Blind (universal symbol for services for the blind)
- Crutches (injured get preferential access. Hospital signage)
- Wheelchair (universal symbol of accessibility)
- Walker (Accessibility, limited walking capability)
- Elderly (Not a disability, dammit!)
- Leg missing
- Invisible Disability (You’re disabled? You look normal)
I had a hand in documenting signage for Austin-Bergstrom International Airport back in the day. I know the symbology; or rather, I know where to go looking for the official definitions for the symbols. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has over 6k images in their online database now. Here is a link to the symbol for priority access for elderly people. The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) has a list of fifty symbols commonly used in transit hubs, the kinds of places where symbolic communication is essential since communication in a common language may not be possible.
Most of the symbols in the invisible disability image are not standard, but crafted in the helvetica style adopted by international symbology. There is no ISO symbol for missing limbs because that disability is too specific to a particular person not a generalizable disability requiring recognizable symbols that give directions. Well, maybe at the Veterans Administration where they have amputees waiting for years to get care. They probably have queue signage and queues that go on for blocks.
However, the illustrator that created the invisible disability image left off one of the most common disability symbols, the symbol for services for the deaf. It doesn’t fit the theme, but deafness is a pretty common disability and just leaving them out of the image sells their disability short. This is something I’m sensitive to since I’ll probably be deaf one day myself.
While looking for the origins of the illustration, I stumbled across the dildo dude, who can be seen in this Shutterstock image, as well as a couple of the other symbols. I also discovered a movement afoot to update the accessibility symbol with something that looks like it was designed this century, instead of last century, Accessibleicon.org. I can’t say I’m promoting their defacement of standard signage because I have an uncontrollable twitch when it comes to graffiti, an urge to reach out and snap off the arm of the person defacing public property. But I do like the updated symbology. I was never very fond of the old symbol in the first place.