New Emoji for People with Disabilities Have Arrived!

Emojis including a Seeing Eye dog, hearing aid, person in wheelchair, person with a cane, prosthetic leg and someone motioning toward their ear

Earlier this month the Unicode Consortium (the organization that standardizes the emoji offered by Apple, Google and other device makers) released a list of new emoji that will be available to use on smartphones and other devices later this year. You can see them all here. The big news for us at Easterseals is this: 12 of the new emoji depict people with disabilities.

But why should I care? I am completely blind. I can’t see emojis.

Here’s why: the speech synthesizers on my laptop and phone describe emoji to me out loud whenever they appear on screen. For years I’ve heard things like:

  • “Face with rolling eyes”
  • “Thinking face”
  • “Winking face with stuck out tongue”

You get the picture. And thanks to my speech synthesizer, so do I! In the past couple years I started hearing my synthesizer describing members of the LGBTQ+ community represented in emoji form — images of same sex families, two men holding hands, two women doing the same, rainbow flags.

Cool.

And then my speech synthesizer started calling out the skin tones of emoji, too. Example: I follow Chance the Rapper on Twitter, and when I hear one of his tweets followed with something like “hands with medium skin tone pressed together” it makes me smile. According to an article in Disability Scoop, some of the new disability-related emoji will have male and female versions and variants for skin tone, too. You know what that means, don’t you? When my smart phone starts reading those tweets out loud to me later this year, I’m going to be smiling a lot!

This increased representation — even via emoji — is paramount to inclusion. More than 1 billion people worldwide have some form of disability, and until now, only one symbol – the image of a wheelchair – has been available to represent all of us. That’s why I care. The new set of emoji aims to provide a wider array of options to represent basic categories for people with all sorts of disabilities, and I say, bring ‘em on.


 

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