Handicap signs now sport 'more active' look

Mr Muhd Aidil Khalip, 29, exiting a lift with one of the new signs at Bishan MRT station yesterday. The new symbols, designed by Nanyang Technological University students, are displayed at 21 MRT stations and 26 sports complexes, among other places.
Mr Muhd Aidil Khalip, 29, exiting a lift with one of the new signs at Bishan MRT station yesterday. The new symbols, designed by Nanyang Technological University students, are displayed at 21 MRT stations and 26 sports complexes, among other places.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

The classic blue and white handicap sign, commonly found at lifts and toilets, has been given a makeover.

Now, the little white figure can be seen either shooting a basketball, swinging a tennis racket, or playing at a table tennis table.

Ms Samantha Tan, 23, and three friends from Nanyang Technological University's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information redesigned the sign after finding the figure depicted in the internationally recognised symbol to be too static and passive.

They did it for their final-year project to push for more awareness of mobility and disability sports.

The new icons are now being displayed alongside the established sign at 21 MRT stations, 26 sports complexes, and some hospitals, universities and charities.

Globally, advocates for the disabled have pushed for the existing symbol to be modified. For instance, New York in 2014 signed into law a measure to replace the universal symbol with a modified version that showed the figure on the wheelchair leaning forward to appear more active.

"We hope to carry the new signs permanently because we think they may help change perception of people with disabilities and encourage them to be active," said Mr Kerk Kim Por, director of disability sports at ActiveSG. ActiveSG is a national movement for sports.

"Initially, there were discussions to replace the established sign with the new ones, but there was feedback that people could be confused by the different signs, so the new ones will be carried together with the existing one until people get more familiar with them," he added.

The new signs are likely to be taken down in April when the awareness campaign ends, but those in the sports complexes will remain.

The existing symbol was designed in 1968 by Danish graphic designer Susanne Koefoed and was later adopted worldwide after the United Nations gave it stature in 1974.

It is meant to indicate that a particular facility or service is accessible to persons with disabilities.

The new icon depicting a table tennis game caught the eye of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), but the organisation received some flak after it posted the sign on its Facebook page without crediting its creators. ITTF later reposted it with credit.

Disability groups such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association Singapore and Disabled People's Association (DPA) welcome the new signs but said the existing one should remain as well.

DPA executive director Marissa Lee said: "One is to encourage greater inclusion and participation in sports, and the other is there to indicate an accessible facility."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2017, with the headline 'Handicap signs now sport 'more active' look'. Print Edition | Subscribe