Symbols of Disabilities

By Lovett Michael Weah and Tarlee A. Nuahn

Disabilities are divided into two major groups; visible and invisible disabilities. Visible disabilities can be seen with the physical eye. For example, a wheelchair user is easily recognized as a PWD. On the other hand, invisible disabilities can not be seen with the physical eye. For instance, a person with diabetes is not recognized with a physical eye; instead, diabetes is diagnosed through a medical examination.

The universal symbol of disability

A symbol is used to identify disability in its generality; however, disabled rights advocates have argued that such characters do not recognize some disabilities like invisible disabilities.

Jesus Diaz, a creative director, screenwriter, and producer, wrote, "Today, disability is represented by the International Symbol of Access (ISA), which was created by Danish design student Susanne Koefoed back in 1968. It's a strong graphic of a person in a wheelchair that has had tremendous success in conditioning societies all over the world to respect and give preferential treatment and access to disabled people." 

Diaz points out that 93% of persons with disabilities don't use wheelchairs even though the holistic symbol of all PWD is a person in a wheelchair. According to Diaz, Liam Riddler, a creative at London's McCann office, and his colleague, Lisa Carana, under the project titled; Visibility93, propose modifying the symbols. So that said symbol can represent persons with invisible disabilities.

Symbols of some visible disabilities

In addition to the general symbol, specific disabilities are recognized through various instruments.

The White Cane

Often, we see people in the streets holding rods that they use for navigation. What most Liberians miss out on is the actual power and significance of the cane. This symbol may be used to indicate access for people who are blind or have low vision, including a guided tour, a path to a nature trail or a scent garden in a park, and much more.

Identity- the cane identifies a person as blind or visually impaired. Whenever you see a person holding a cane, whether a stick or the original white cane, you become aware that that person has some level of visual impairment.

Safety- the white cane also protects the user. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) gives the right of way to the cane. This means, when a white cane user stands by the roadside and lifts the cane, every driver or rider should stop and give the individual a chance to walk across the street.

The Wheelchair 

Being mobile while facing physical challenges has been one of the significant social issues downplayed and not discussed within our society. Though these issues have caused less access to some areas for wheelchair users, pedestrians, and other people with disabilities, we need to create easy access for people experiencing physical disabilities.

The Wheelchair, also termed as (The Symbol of Accessibility) is a sign or symbol which signifies access for individuals whose mobility is limited, such as those who are wheelchair users. It shows that the facility posting the sign has been designed to cater to the needs of those with restricted mobility. The wheelchair symbol should only be used to indicate access for individuals with limited mobility, including wheelchair users. For example, the logo indicates an accessible entrance, bathroom, or that a phone is lowered for wheelchair users. The sign points to either a ramped access or an elevator. Remember that a ramped entrance is not entirely accessible if there are no curb cuts, and an elevator is not accessible if it can only be reached via steps.


Have you ever wondered; Can a person with visual impairments write? What is the process through which they do that? Braille is a form of writing introduced by Louis Braille but later improved by Charles Barbier, who intended to have an army who would communicate without speaking and using the torchlight at night.  This symbol indicates that printed matter is available in Braille, including exhibition labeling, publications, and signage.

When this access symbol is posted on a facility or in printed material, it indicates that the additional signage or printed material is also available in Braille. For instance, such signage or printed material may include exhibition labels or publications.