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  • Writer's picturePhilip J Connolly

New Energy for the Unity Plan

If the disability sector is to advance then it will need to find new energy but where is this energy going to come from? I think one answer is in new symbols. Symbols connect people to inner depths of consciousness. Symbols provide energy and dynamism. The tricolour born out of the French revolution is a leading example of how this works. Hundreds of thousands of citizens joined Napoleon's armies in defence of its values of equality, liberty and fraternity. This example alone tells me that we need new symbols not logos. People organise around symbols not logos.

The wheelchair symbol no longer works for doing this because it is not representative enough nor aspirational enough to lead us into the future. Only around one in seven disabled people are wheelchair users and future advances in exoskeletal assistive fabrics may make these materials more aspirational then a wheelchair because these type of advances blur the difference in appearance between some disabled and non-disabled people. Additionally much of the current growth and energy in the disability sector is being provided by the neurodiverse community for whom the wheelchair is not an appropriate representation of their experiences. It is thought that around eighty percent of disabilities are hidden disabilities. As disability becomes more diverse and less obvious unity need to come from elsewhere.

I first began to consider the task of new symbols siting in one of the oldest churches in Quito in Ecuador, South America. The highly decorated ceiling bore images of not just the Christian god as you would expect but the Mayan/Aztec/Inca sun too. The imperial Spanish conquistadors had seen fit to not rely on military power to win converts but had sought on occasion to incorporate the symbols of the native indigenous Indians too. The power to enforce a symbol could be second to the power to include others.

Many countries have sought to link their identities to the power of the sun in their own adoption of symbols. Japan is an example, it simply has the sun on its flag. Other countries have looked beyond our own star to other stars such as the United States, others have gone for constellations of stars such as Brazil, Australia or New Zealand. The sun or other stars appeal because all our power appears to come from the sun. The sun's light photosynthesise's plants and they in turn begin all the food webs that animals including ourselves depend upon. But the disability movement needs to set a new context, a context that frames judgement of balance. Fortunately there is a context that exists and is available for us to appropriate - the universe itself - the Milky Way. The universe is a spiral of solar systems that is ever expanding but also ever starting too. Hindus have understood this well and see the spiral as a symbol of birth and reincarnation but also evolution too. No doubt their ancestors could see the spiral in the shells of snails, the movement of whirlpools and the convolutions of the brain and saw the similarity with the spiral of the cosmos. They would not have been surprised to have learnt from British scientists Crick and Watson that the very structure of DNA is a spiral. The spiral is the journey we are all on. We all aspire to continue the journey.

It is often the case that people with Parkinson's disease like me are asked to draw spirals. Parkinsons' restricts the ability to do this. The symptom is called Micrographia I believe and denotes a reduction in pyramidal (again another Parkinsons word) capabilities. So far I can still draw a decent spiral but what I really want to do is to continue to think spirally. I want to stay on the spiralling slope of new views and ideas and be part of a movement that does the same. If the disability sector were to adopt the spiral we would provide a symbol of an inclusive standard for both disabled and non-disabled people that would be aspirational and inclusive and almost for ever.

The Disability Resilience Network (DRN) invites you to send us your symbol and a drawing of it. Please join us and debate the choice of a symbol for the disability movement. Join the DRN at and use your form to submit your membership and your symbol.


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