LESSON

Accessibility Icons in Action

This lesson exposes children to several commonly used icons for accessibility and gives them the opportunity to act out scenarios where the icons might be especially useful. It also introduces the idea of universal design, an approach to making the world usable for all people.
Grade Level

Objectives

Students will

  • learn to read several universal accessibility icons;
  • think critically about advantages and disadvantages of universal icons for people with disabilities and
  • take different perspectives in realistic scenarios involving accessibility icons.
Essential Questions
  • What is a universal icon?
  • How might universal icons be helpful in guaranteeing accessibility?
  • What possible disadvantages do universal accessibility icons pose?
Materials

This lesson is part of the series, Picturing Accessibility: Art, Activism and Physical Disabilities.

Vocabulary

icon [ AHY kon ] (noun) a picture or image that represents something

accessibility [ ek sess uh BIL uh tee ] (noun) the quality of being possible to get into, use, make use of

universal [ yoo NUH ver suhl ] (adjective) understood the same way everywhere or in a wide variety of places

 

Procedure

When the students have had a chance to discuss each of the icons, bring the groups together to share what they noticed. If students are unfamiliar with the icons, explain what they stand for: wheelchair accessibility, accessibility for those with hearing impairments and large print for people with vision impairments.

Discuss what students think might be advantages or disadvantages to each icon. An example of an advantage might be that the icons help people be more aware of what places are or are not accessible. A disadvantage might be that although the icons are supposedly universal—and are used all over the world—plenty of people do not have a chance to learn how and why they are used. 

As kids consider the advantages and disadvantages, ask them to think about how their own school is or is not accessible, and whether icons or other visual paths might help. Explain to students that many activists work toward universal design, an approach to making the world usable by as many people as possible. Ask students to think about how icons do or do not contribute to universal design. Do they make the world more accessible?

  1. Tell students that they will be learning about three icons commonly used to indicate accessibility. Remind students of the meaning of “accessibility,” and ask them to share what they know about the nature of icons. If the term is unfamiliar, provide students with a definition.
  2. Share these three icons. You can give students a handout with the icons or project them on an overhead or with a document camera. Have students work in pairs or groups to answer the following questions about each icon. 
    • What do you notice about the icon?
    • What do you think the purpose of the icon is?
    • Where, if anywhere, have you seen the icon before?
  3. Divide your students into groups, and give each group one of the role-play cards. Let students read their cards and figure out how they would handle the situations. Then allow them to act the scenarios out—including how they would resolve the situation. Have students watch one another’s skits, making sure to leave time for questions and comments afterwards. When the skits are done, ask students to reflect out loud or in notebooks on what they have learned about the importance of accessibility icons.

 

Additional Resources

Some further ideas for talking to students about the needs of people with physical disabilities can be found here. An overview of accessibility icons as well as some of their advantages and disadvantages is included here.


Activities address the following Common Core Anchor Standards for Language Arts and Social Studies: CCSS: SL.3.1, SL.3.3, SL.3.4, SL.3.6, RL.3.5

Extension Activity

Encourage students to keep their eyes open over the next week for accessibility icons in their communities. Older students can even keep a notebook of where they notice these icons and whether they are serving their intended purpose. Give students a chance to share what they have noticed, and discuss whether they think the icons are useful, and why or why not.

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