ECU’s New Accessible Parking Icon Paints a Different Picture of People With Disabilities

By Kim Grizzard Staff Writer Apr 9, 2022

On a campus where people usually like to “paint it purple,” it might come as a surprise that no one said no to the blue and white painted on pavement near the Fifth Street entrance of East Carolina University.

Instead, those colors drew cheers from dozens of supporters Friday as the university rolled out a new active icon for accessible parking. Following a ceremony outside Wright Auditorium, three spaces bearing a 54-year-old symbol for accessible parking were painted over with a new design.

David Loy, associate professor in College of Health and Human Performance, said the new Accessible Icon Project logo is a step forward from the International Symbol of Accessibility.

“The (old) symbol portrays those with disabilities as somebody who’s stationary, inactive and certainly oftentimes dependent on others,” Loy said, as he issued a challenge to both the City of Greenville and other schools in the University of North Carolina system to replace the 1968 symbol with the new design. “The old icon has served us well, but it’s time for a change. Today, individuals with disabilities are active. They’re seeking independence, and they’re attempting to live full lives like we all want to.”

ECU senior Brendon Hildreth helped paint the first of the 337 accessible parking spaces on campus that are due to receive a makeover over the next four months. Hildreth, who has cerebral palsy, has helped lead the effort to have the symbol adopted in New Bern, where he has lived with his family since 2012.

“Although we all have different backgrounds and are very diverse, we all need each other to accomplish our goals,” said Hildreth, who spoke using an assistive communication device. “Inclusion means that we all work together no matter who we are or where we come from. Everyone deserves to be included.”

Hildreth was appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper in 2017 to the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities. The 32-year-old Massachusetts native is a longtime advocate for people with disabilities and a volunteer for the Boston-based Accessible Icon Project. Created by Sara Hendren and Brian Glenney in 2010 as a street art campaign, the public domain icon has gained acceptance by cities, government organizations, schools and companies and has been granted official use in the states of New York and Connecticut as well as the City of Phoenix.

Loy, who learned about the project a little more than a year ago, had no idea when he contacted Glenney that Hildreth, a leader in the movement, called eastern North Carolina home and was enrolled as an industrial technology student at ECU.

“When I found out he was a Pirate, he was going to graduate with a degree from East Carolina, I said we’ve got to do this,” Loy recalled.

Hildreth’s mother, Darcy, recalled her excitement at having the university reach out to her family to participate in the project.

“Having fought for 22 years, as a parent, you get tired,” she said, explaining that barriers to their son’s education led the family to relocate to North Carolina, where Brendon attended Craven Community College before enrolling at ECU.

“He (Loy) contacted us, and I could not be more honored or overwhelmed,” Ms. Hildreth said. “What it shows to us is they get it, and I don’t think we could want any more than that. People get it.”

Chancellor Philip Rogers said that when he began work at ECU a little more than a year ago, one of the first requests he heard from a student involved accessibility. A beloved mascot statue on the campus mall was difficult to access for students using wheelchairs.

“We listened and we responded by making what was a very simple, at the time, but what turned out to be a very significant change by expanding the sidewalk that was adjacent to the pirate statue,” Rogers said, calling the active icon for accessible parking, “another example of ECU’s service mentality in action.”

Loy said student groups are volunteering to paint at least 100 of the new icons on accessible parking spaces across campus. In addition, Inner Banks Paint and Decorating agreed to donate about $4,000 worth of paint for the project.

“No one ever said no, but they said how,” Loy said. “That’s the spirit of East Carolina University.

“This is really more than just painting our ECU spaces,” he said. “The Accessible Icon Pirate Challenge is about change. It’s about becoming a more inclusive community.”

Contact Kim Grizzard at or call 329-9578.
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