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Public power city of New Bern, N.C., is early adopter of dynamic accessibility icon

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The public power community of New Bern has become the first city in North Carolina to support the Accessible Icon Project — an effort to replace the old "handicapped parking" logo with a new, more dynamic image.

A video posted on YouTube, "City of New Bern Supports Accessible Icon Project," shows how the city transformed the parking area at its Utility Business Office. New Bern resident Brendon Hildreth, who brought the idea of the new icon to the city, was asked to help paint the blue-and-white motif on the first parking spaces last fall.

Brendon Hildreth, left, and friends show off a freshly painted parking icon in New Bern. Photo source: ElectriCities of North Carolina

The revitalized accessibility symbol was the idea of Sara Hendren, a graduate student at the Harvard School of Design. She thought the old access icon, the International Symbol of Access, looked "too mechanical and static," according to an article in the New Bern Hometown Connection.

Hendren collaborated with Brian Glenney, a philosophy professor at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., to create the new image. Like the traditional "handicapped" logo, the new drawing shows a person in a wheelchair. In the new image, however, the person is not sitting still but rather is leaning forward, propelling the wheelchair along.

Since then, the Accessibility Icon Project "has become a huge cause, with everyone from the Jacksonville Jaguars to the city of New York adopting the new icon," the Boston Globe reported late last year.

Brendon Hildreth — who has cerebral palsy and often uses a wheelchair — became interested in the new accessibility icon when he and his family lived in Massachusetts, before they moved to the New Bern area. Last August, he presented the Accessibility Icon Project to the New Bern Board of Aldermen.

The project was approved and, on Oct. 1, 2013, about 30 people, including members of the city government and city employees, gathered to watch Hildreth paint the first icon at the parking lot near the city's business office.

"Anyone can be a leader, and bring positive change," said Hildreth, who speaks with help from a computer. He expressed a hope that the new pavement markings in New Bern "are just the beginning," in North Carolina and the United States, of a trend to adopt the new image.

Other cities that have adopted the new icon include Austin, Texas (another public power community); New York, N.Y.; Cambridge, Malden, and Salem, Mass.; and El Paso, Texas. A third public power community — Lincoln, Neb. — also is using the icon at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, according to

ABC's Good Morning America aired an episode about the project in 2013, as did National Public Radio.

On its website, the Accessibility Icon Project offers a downloadable icon, with step-by-step instructions, that anyone can use to make a paper stencil, and transfer it to plywood. —JEANNINE ANDERSON


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