In the modern world of technology, emojis have transformed from fun pictures to a form of communication and representation.
As the list of emojis have grown to encapsulate users’ daily lives, Apple has submitted a proposal to Unicode Consortium to include new disability-inclusive emojis.
The American Council of the Blind, Cerebral Palsy Foundation and National Association of the Deaf worked with Apple to formulate 13 proposed emojis.
These were not meant to be an all-inclusive take on the life of anyone with a disability, but rather a starting point to raise awareness and start a conversation about different perspectives of life.
The list of illustrated emojis included service dogs, blind individuals with canes, an ear with a hearing aid, a wheelchair user, prosthetic limbs and more.
“Currently, emojis provide a wide range of options, but may not represent the experiences of those with disabilities,” Apple said in its proposal. “Diversifying the options available helps fill a significant gap and provides a more inclusive experience for all.”
The use of emojis not only shows representation and inclusion but sparks conversation among users.
Normalization of disabilities can happen slowly with increased visibility in the media. The availability of emojis that remind students with disabilities of themselves has positive potential.
“It’s hard for disability students to feel included because they feel different all the time and this is a little tool to help them say, ‘Hey this is normal, this is OK,’” said Keila Mazariegos, senior psychology major and student worker at Disability Services. “Even if you are different, you are still accepted and represented.”
Disabilities are an under-represented minority that—apart from a couple awareness days a year with trending hash-tags— lack attention from the media.
In the proposal, Apple stated one in seven people around the world live with a disability, whether physical, mental or invisible. Austin Cary, adjunct professor of ASL at California Baptist University, has used the app Buzzsticker for more than year, and it includes animated hands signing commonly used words, phrases and slang. Cary said he worries the new Apple emojis that feature signs will not be helpful without the animation— all current emojis lack.
Bitmoji, another personalized picture app that has gained popularity and become a form of communication, has begun to experiment with animated features.
Cary said the addition of more animation could be a more helpful way to display ASL through the Bitmoji characters. The language of ASL is not just limited to signing, but also incorporates body language, facial expressions and nonverbal mouth movement.
While the proposal of disability inclusive emojis does not encapsulate the life experience of every individual, it is a step in the right direction of mainstream inclusion of an often marginalized community.