Quiz: Representations of Disabled Bodies in Logos


Most disability logos just consist of the usual stick-figure-in-the-wheelchair logo, or a derivation thereof.

After spotting this logo for No Barriers No Borders, I went looking for others. And I got to thinking about the representations of disabled bodies in logos.

row of variously-dressed smiling cartoon people under NBNB banner, standing, sitting in wheelchair, with cane or crutches

I set aside those images dealing with sport, and those not including any representation of a PWD’s whole body. Here are a few typical samples of what I was left with. I haven’t cherry-picked; I mostly just grabbed from the first few pages of a Google Images search.

My question to you is:

What do all of these logos have in common?

The Americans with Disabilities Act

Square logo with international wheelchair symbol, person with cane, sign language hands, and ear with sound waves

Blogging Against Disablism Day

matrix of 16 standard-male-type icon people, standing, sitting in wheelchair, with cane

yapa.com.au “Opening The Doors

line drawing, one person in wheelchair with a basketball, one standing with a boom box, one standing holding art gear

National Disability Abuse and Neglect Hotline

wispy figures, one standing with telephone in hand, the other standing as if to hold their hand

Disability Council NSW

row of photos of people standing, sitting signing to each other, standing with glasses and cane, sitting in wheelchairs

Disabled American Veterans

cloth badge with ?lady representing USA holding hand out to kneeling soldier

Disabled Rehabilitation and Research Association

three iconic people, white on green, one in wheelchair, one standing, one with crutch

Northwest Ohio Center for Families and Children

row of cartoon silhouette people holding hands, one in wheelchair, six standing. some seen to be children, some adults

Alamonte Springs Advisory Board for the Disabled, Inc

row of black stick figures holding hands, one in wheelchair, one with leg braces, one with crutches, one a child

Pet Positive

woman in wheelchair with cat, dog, bird

A to Z Mobility

person standing, blue swoosh symbol leading to head of standardised person-in-wheelchair symbol

Federal Disability Workforce Consortium

row of toilet-icon type people, two in wheelchairs (one with dog), one with crutch and one with cane, others all standing unsupported

Royal National Institute for the Blind’s Multiple Disability Service

black and white line drawing of person walking with cane

Independence Empowerment Centre

oval with person with cane, person standing, person in wheelchair, child with crutches, hands making signs

Louisana Tech Office of Disability Services

row of people, one standing adult, four standing children, one child in wheelchair

If you’re wanting an extra clue to where I’m going with the “What do all of these logos have in common?” question, it’s here (highlight to show):

Which group of PWD does every logo exclude?

There may well be other issues to speak about as well as the one I’m picking up on – add your thoughts in comments!

Edited to add: Sunless Nick was the first to pick up on what I was noticing, which is that none of the bodies are in a bed or otherwise horizontal. All are sitting or standing.

Anna elaborates beautifully:

I don’t think she’s suggesting that every logo should do this – she’s pointing out that none of them do.

So, of folks who have the most barriers to self-advocacy and visibility, the ones who are the most likely to be abused (the rates of sexual abuse in long-term care centers are staggering), the ones who are least likely to be known by the public, and the ones who will have the most difficulty in getting the attention of politicians, advocates, and the general public are the ones who are not included in any of these logos.

Logos are, of necessity, shorthand. Nobody expects every single type of body to be present in every single type of logo. However, when you look at a corpus of logos, and one particular type of body is never, ever represented, there’s something going on. These logos show evidence of trying to be inclusive. They depict people in wheelchairs, people standing, people of various sizes and ages, people with crutches and braces and canes, people of multiple genders and races and religions – but the one thing they don’t show is people who have to lie down all the time.

When those people are among the most disadvantaged, the most discriminated against, the most abused, the most isolated, and find it the most difficult to access appropriate, adequate care – and they are ignored by the very organisations claiming to advocate for them – there is a problem.

For more information, check out Bedbound Unlimited: Surviving and thriving while confined to bed.

Categories: media, social justice

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32 replies

  1. Hmmm…first I thought older people, then deaf people, then I thought people in non-manual wheelchairs, then I thought people with mental or other non-visible disabilities, but they’re all there. Pregnant women aren’t, nor are babies. (Or is the woman in the Pet Positive logo not an older woman?)

  2. Well, I don’t see any amputees, but I’m not sure that’s what you mean

  3. There are amputees in the 1st and 8th logos, and possibly the 10th; that was my first guess, too. I don’t know how the logos would depict someone with non-visible disabilities.
    I don’t see anyone using a walker or supportive cane (as opposed to the thin canes for the blind), so I’m guessing ambulatory but with limited mobility.

  4. @Notgruntled – I read the people with hearts on them in the first logo as people with mental or other non-visible disabilities! I don’t even know if that’s what they mean, but it’s what leapt to mind.

  5. I’m not sure what the hearts are; there seem too many to be representing disability from heart disease or congenital cardiac anomalies. I read the various ‘unmarked’ standing figures as representing a variety of invisible disabilities, including mental illness.
    Pregnant women is a good point, lilacsigil, and not one I had specifically looked for.
    I see at least three with crutches that don’t look like canes for blind people, and one with some sort of leg brace.

  6. There’s a girl with crutches in the second-to-last pic, which covers the limited-mobility one… and there are Down’s Syndrome kids (and similar genetic disabilities) in the photographic one… I’m stumped!

  7. Does “pregnant” really count as a disability? I suppose it does impede mobility somewhat…
    On that note, just noticed that there are no obese people either.

  8. Alice: I think the point was more that PWD are sometimes pregnant too. (Ditto that the sets of PWD and fat people sometimes overlap, but I see at least two bodies here that are likely to be over BMI 30.) Though the pregnancy thing is not what I was getting at, it is a valid point.

  9. @Alice – yes, I meant people who were disabled and also pregnant, not pregnancy as a disability.

  10. I can’t see any non-nuclear families. But my first thought was that people with mental illnesses are missing. I interpreted the hearts as heart illnesses, rather than mental illnesses.
    But really, I’m stumped on this.

  11. I didn’t interpret any as mental disabilities either, but then I’m also stuck on how you could represent us in logos of this kind.
    I had thought of someone missing an arm, but fourth from the left on the top one seems to be.
    No one is bedridden in any of them.
    No one’s unequivocally elderly, though the Pet Positive woman could be.
    That’s all I’ve got.

  12. No one is bedridden in any of them.


  13. Ohhhhh.

    *feels very silly, especially given that I spend an awful lot of time bedridden myself*

  14. None of them are visibly disfigured.

  15. [quote]Dingdingdingdingding![/quote]Have to cop that I wouldn’t have noticed without your clue.

  16. Hi, Newbie in need of a clue-stick here. How is a logo (which is, by definition, a visual synecdoche for a company or group) supposed to represent every variation of disability that exists? *None* of these logos do….the only way to narrow it down to “the bedridden” is to take a lump of them together as far as I can tell. I get as far as “logos should not be uniformly able-bodied, heteronormative, young white men”, but I’m not getting how everybody has to or can be represented in the logo (just in the logo…the actual doings of a group are a different story, obviously). I’m assuming this is newbie-ism and privilege-blinders on my part, so I’d really appreciate anyone who has the time to explain it in baby-talk to me.

  17. I also didn’t see anyone with epilepsy or neurological illness, but I’m not sure how they would have represented that.

  18. I am going to expand the post, but not for a while (I’ve things to do today).

  19. cool beans, looking forward to it!
    ps—always enjoy your blog.

  20. Leigh Olivia, I don’t want to speak for Lauredhel, but I don’t think she’s suggesting that every logo should do this – she’s pointing out that none of them do.
    So, of folks who have the most barriers to self-advocacy and visibility, the ones who are the most likely to be abused (the rates of sexual abuse in long-term care centers are staggering), the ones who are least likely to be known by the public, and the ones who will have the most difficulty in getting the attention of politicians, advocates, and the general public are the ones who are not included in any of these logos.
    I’m reminded of a situation that went down in Canada last year of a politician who decided he would learn to understand the plight of the bedridden by wearing an adult diaper all day while working. Their advocates were attempting to raise awareness of the issue of bed sores – which become horribly infected – and abuse in long-term care centers, and he reduced it to that.

  21. Yowzers. That’s…that just sounds like a bad joke, not like something that would really happen. And usually everyone stateside likes to imagine that the politicians up north are perfect (not that they need to be to lightyears ahead of us)…
    Thank you, Anna. That makes a lot of sense, and I really do appreciate your taking time out to educate the ignorant (’cause, lord knows, if you tried to do that for everybody, you’d never eat or sleep).

  22. My thoughts may be very different than Lauredhel’s, but there they are.
    (At the moment I’m procrastinating on an essay.)
    If you want to read a book that talks about the American experience in more depth (no pressure!), may I recommend Why I Burned My Book by Paul K Longmore. He talks about the situation he was in when trying to get a degree. Basically, the government would pay for his care as long as he didn’t do any work at all. Once he started earning a paycheque – not enough to cover the amount of care he needed – he would be cut off. I’m vastly oversimplifying. Longmore’s book touches a variety of subjects across the US.

  23. and I’m procrastinating on my thesis….
    Thank you for the reading tip–I will start pestering the library about it 😀 (I’m due for a trip there anyhow).

  24. I’ve been thinking a bit about this. What’s interesting to me is how logos are designed: they homogenise a group, at least to some extent, in order to make them representable in a kind of singular way. But what’s interesting is how some differences are made to count: they’re recognised and made present for consideration, whilst others are situated as not requiring this kind of representation (for one reason for another). To some extent, of course, this is part of the problems of how we think about representation, which is that it functions metonymically (where one bit stands in for the whole: you can see this in the democratic selection of political reps). The point being that when we think metonymically, we already have a defined ‘whole’ which is represented…. but of course the question is how is that whole constituted? What are people thought to share in order to constitute this unity from which a singular representative must be selected? And what happens to the differences that have to be excised in order to produce first this unity and second the representative of that unity?
    There are other ways to approach representation, methinks, but our current approach seems so obsessed with the production of sameness, where sameness is understood as guaranteeing equality (and winds up producing ways of representing groups which risk indifference (that is, the failure to recognise difference *as* difference)). In the end, I think that the exclusions required in order to produce logos *are* political, absolutely. But there is no such thing as perfect inclusivity in contemporary modes of representation where the presence of one thing is also the absence of another. Which is why I think it’s representation itself we need to rework. (But now we’re heading into the importance of deconstruction, so I’ll leave it there)….

  25. Excluded:
    1. The Immobile. Meaning, not necessary 100% paralysed or bedridden always, although those apply, but broadly those who aren’t mobile in ways that they can access or be seen by “normal” public society. There’s PWD using chairs in the logos, but PWD who are confined to a institution/their home are denied the social roles offered by mobility too, regardless of whether they/we use mobility aids.
    2. Parents and other carers who are PWD. Like parenting and family discussion about PWD is often framed as Abled Carers wanting to “help” PWD who are discussed as though we’re totally infantilized, without sexuality or civic and family roles. Although really, there are so many PWD already parenting and/or being carers to others *despite* this paternalism, not thanks to it.
    Deaf women’s experiences of being discriminated against in IVF access is an example of that invisibility of WWD in family and sexual/care roles.
    Although I think you mean the 1st?

  26. Oh pfft, Anna and WP, I skimmed your long comments before writing mine.
    re: your points, there was an advocacy campaign for youth in long term care centres here last year featuring large posters in shopping centers with a ‘hip’ looking young woman in a center staring at the camera.
    The slogan was something like; “This is the most she’s going to get out this year”, then some basic info about social confinement of PWD in small print. I couldn’t find it online, but it’s aim was fundraising to invest in accessible community housing so PWD in really awful centers could upgrade to some independence.
    I felt it was effective in challenging this idea of “Oh lucky them, they get to stay home all day being lazy in bed” ..but sooo tip of the iceberg on rights of confined PWD.

  27. Sorry, I’ve just not been in the right headspace to do what I said yet… but Anna definitely does speak for me in this particular case! Anna, do you mind if I pull your comment to quote in a post edit?

  28. Wow.
    I run the Bedridden/Unlimited blog you linked to, and I do a ton of advocacy around bedridden/housebound issues and I am bedridden myself and I didn’t pick it from the logos.
    Although at the moment I have the flu so it may say more about the brainfog level than other things, but I don’t think I would have got it even on a “good day”. It’s amazing how much I’m so used to bedridden people being excluded that I don’t even notice it happening … that’s scary.

  29. BTW, if any other Hoydens can point me to resources (on the net or books/movies/etc.) which would be appropriate resources I’d be thrilled to link those from the website too.
    Ricky Buchanan’s last blog post..Happiness Is Clean Hair

  30. Ricky: It is scary, isn’t it? I never noticed it before. But I was thinking about bedbound.org, then looking at some other site with a logo, and it struck me all at once. (So it was you that triggered the insight!)
    I wish I knew of resources. I think I’ve seen a couple of support sites for pregnant women on bed rest, but not much else.


  1. Disability And Logos: Bedbound/Unlimited
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