Examining perceptions of existing and newly created accessibility symbols

Academic Article


  • Background: Symbols are used to convey messages in a clear, understandable manner, without the use of written language. The most widely recognized symbol used to denote access for persons with disabilities is the International Symbol of Access. This symbol has been criticized for its inadequate representation of disability diversity poorly representing universal design of space and products. Objective: This descriptive study explored individual comprehension and perceptions of nine existing and newly created accessibility pictograph symbols and identified one that represented universal access to fitness equipment. Methods: A survey was disseminated electronically and face-to-face to individuals, groups and organizations affiliated with inclusive fitness equipment, space and programming. Quantitative data was analyzed for descriptive statistics, rank order of symbols and group comparisons of rankings. Thematic analysis of open-ended question results revealed themes to enhance understanding of symbol rank order. Results: 981 participants completed the survey. Symbol four, shaped as a Venn diagram containing three icons representing individuals with varying ability levels, was ranked highest with no significant differences in group comparisons between participants with and without a disability and U.S. residents versus non-U.S. residents. 85.4% of participants demonstrated accurate comprehension of this symbol. Though symbol five had the same symbol rank median value, this symbol's distribution of scores was lower. Conclusions: Participants accurately comprehended symbol four and it was identified as the highest ranked symbol representing universal access to fitness equipment. Because of symbol unfamiliarity, adoption will require education and consistency of use and placement.
  • Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Barstow BA; Vice J; Bowman S; Mehta T; Kringen S; Axelson P; Padalabalanarayanan S
  • Start Page

  • 180
  • End Page

  • 186
  • Volume

  • 12
  • Issue

  • 2