Over the past sev­eral years, scores of dis­ability rights activists have begun to ques­tion the effi­cacy of the ubiq­ui­tous wheel­chair symbol, arguing that the white-​​on-​​blue icon depicts people with dis­abil­i­ties as pas­sive, depen­dent, even mechanical.

Kim­berly Izar, DMSB’16, is but one of the vocal critics of the Inter­na­tional Symbol of Access, as it’s for­mally known. “People with dis­abil­i­ties are active and engaged mem­bers of the com­mu­nity,” she says, noting that one of her close family mem­bers lives with a mental dis­ability and yet excels as an employee of a restau­rant in Rock­land County, New York. “They are not robotic.”

In Jan­uary, Izar set out to bol­ster sup­port for dis­ability rights and started working at Tri­angle, a Greater Boston-​​based non­profit ded­i­cated to empow­ering people with dis­abil­i­ties. As one of the nonprofit’s three co-​​op employees, Izar planned events, penned press releases, and designed mar­keting brochures.

In Feb­ruary, Izar was tasked with plan­ning a pop-​​up instal­la­tion at a studio in New York’s Lower East Side. The exhibit’s main attrac­tion was a redesigned ver­sion of the wheel­chair symbol, a more active and engaging image set for per­ma­nent dis­play at the Museum of Modern Art.

I had to put the event together in two weeks,” recalls Izar, a fourth-​​year busi­ness major with a mar­keting con­cen­tra­tion. “It took a lot of work, but I learned all about the icon and the his­tory of the project.”

The project’s his­tory dates back to 2009, when a Cam­bridge, Massachusetts-​​based artist and an assis­tant pro­fessor of phi­los­ophy at Gordon Col­lege started a guerilla street art project to spark a con­ver­sa­tion, to make an artistic state­ment vis-​​à-​​vis the wheel­chair symbol’s depic­tion of dis­abled people. By 2011, the duo had started placing hun­dreds of trans­parent stickers of their ver­sion of the icon over the old symbol on sig­nage in their neighborhoods—and the state­ment started to morph into a global grass­roots movement.

Today, the so-​​called Acces­sible Icon Project falls within the purview of Tri­angle, which has released the new symbol into the public domain. And though she had only been a co-​​op employee, Izar’s vast knowl­edge of the revamped icon—which looks like a person in the throes of the Boston Marathon’s wheel­chair race—earned her the title of the Acces­sible Icon’s project coordinator.

Izar held the title from March to June, when her co-​​op ended. During that span, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made the acces­sible icon the legal stan­dard in New York State; MOMA made the icon part of its per­ma­nent col­lec­tion; and Jon Stewart, the host of The Daily Show, made a joke about the new symbol on Twitter.

The new accessibility sign is not on permanent display in The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Photo by Rahul Desai.

The new acces­si­bility sign is now on per­ma­nent dis­play in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. Photo by Rahul Desai.

On a local scale, Cam­bridge City Hall and the Boston Med­ical Center have adopted the icon. The Worcester Poly­technic Insti­tute, UMass-​​Amherst, and Bentley Uni­ver­sity have also started using the new symbol while North­eastern, Izar says, has expressed interest in fol­lowing suit. On a global scale, the icon has appeared in Italy, Korea, Aus­tralia, and even Malta.

I’ve received so many photos, videos, and emails from people from around the world who want to show us where they have spotted the icon,” says Izar, who has remained part of Triangle’s team on a part-​​time basis. “Seeing how the project has grown glob­ally has been pretty amazing.”

To her, the new icon is more than just a symbol—it’s a dis­ability rights con­ver­sa­tion starter. “The core mis­sion of the project is not about spray painting lots and changing signs,” she explains. “It’s about having a con­ver­sa­tion about equal rights and oppor­tu­ni­ties for people with disabilities.”