Disability Network/Michigan is promoting an accessibility icon that is not ADA compliant and directly harms both local disability communities and businesses and local governments that are required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The Go Logo website (migologo.org) explains it bluntly: “[It] has the power to change public perception of people with disabilities from one of stationary helplessness to one of active independence.”
According to Michigan Capitol Confidential, bill sponsor and State Representative Beau LaFave said of the legislation, “We don’t have to use the stick figures anymore and we can make it look like a human being that is doing something. As it looks right now, it’s just like someone is just sitting there doing nothing.”
The idea that independence and access to civil rights are related to physical strength and the ability to assimilate into non-disabled society is ableist in the extreme. The stated intent of the Go Logo is to communicate that the significance of a physical disability is directly proportional to helplessness.
This message reinforces society’s negative assumptions about disability and harms the people it is intended to help. For example, a person without an accessible parking placard cannot be ticketed for using an accessible parking space that is not properly marked with the International Symbol of Accessibility. That infringes on our rights and decreases access to our communities.
It also presents a major legal problem for the businesses and local governments that are required to comply with the ADA and / or the Rehabilitation Act.
Disability Network seeks to change state law to require entities covered by the ADA to use the Go Logo. However, state law does not change federal requirements to use the International Symbol of Accessibility.
- Read about Michigan’s proposed legislation, which has passed the House and is currently under review by the Senate.
According to the US Access Board, “a symbol other than the ISA [International Symbol of Accessibility] will not comply with the ADA Standards unless it satisfies the ‘equivalent facilitation’ provision (§103)”.
Equivalent facilitation means that a departure from the standards must ensure equal or greater access than what is required by the ADA.
“The ISA continues to be recognized worldwide as a symbol identifying accessible elements and spaces. Standards issued under the ADA and ABA Standards reference and reproduce the ISA to ensure consistency in the designation of accessible elements and spaces. Uniform iconography promotes legibility, especially for people with low vision or cognitive disabilities.” (Access Board)
It also directly violates other relevant codes and standards:
“In addition, various codes and standards in the U.S. also require use of the ISA. They include the International Codes Council’s International Building Code and ICC A117.1 Standard for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities, the National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 5000 Building Construction and Safety Code and NFPA 170 Standard for Fire Safety and Emergency Symbols, and the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways, among others.” (Access Board)
According to the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, “These alternative symbol designs have not been adopted or endorsed by the U. S. Access Board, which is responsible for promulgating Federal rules on accessibility and whose members include the U. S. Department of Justice and U. S. Department of Transportation. Additionally, the International Organization for Standardization, which established the official symbol, has stated that it does not support the alternative symbol design being promoted.”
Simply put, there is no way proponents of Michigan’s Go Logo can prove that they have engaged in the significant research and consensus building that would be necessary to demonstrate equivalent facilitation – especially when viewed in comparison to the rigorous history of the International Symbol of Accessibility.
This leaves the businesses and local governments using the Go Logo in legal jeopardy because the responsibility for demonstrating equivalent facilitation in the event of a legal challenge or complaint rests with the covered entity, according to the US Access Board.
That means entities covered by the ADA that choose to use the Go Logo will have to use both icons to achieve compliance. If they fail to do so, the burden to prove that the Go Logo provides equivalent facilitation (and the associated court costs) will be on each entity that has used the improper icon.
Entities covered by the ADA need to be aware of the potential consequences of using the Go Logo, including costs to replace incorrect signage, the costs of potential lawsuits, and the risk of alienating disabled customers with ableist messaging.
It’s time for a new symbol. There are many valid criticisms of the International Symbol of Accessibility – especially that it does not adequately represent the diversity of the disability community. But neglecting the work that would be required to do it properly is not the answer. Any solution must achieve the support of the disability community and provide equal or greater access than current requirements.
State law cannot be used to circumvent federal law. If the International Symbol of Accessibility is to be replaced or updated, that will require significant input from all communities of disabled people; significant research; consensus building; and navigation through complex bureaucracies. That process cannot be short-circuited.