Disability Representation In Emojis

Disability Representation in Emojis

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Sometimes it is the smallest things that can make a really big difference. When Apple announced in March that they were submitting 13 disability specific emojis to the Unicode Consortium, the disability community rejoiced.

"Currently, emoji provide a wide range of options, but may not represent the experiences of those with disabilities," Apple wrote in the proposal. "Diversifying the options available helps fill a significant gap and provides a more inclusive experience for all."

As we often say in the disabled community: it's about (damn) time!

Introducing a set of emojis representing disability may seem like a very inconsequential gesture of inclusion. But having symbols that acknowledge your existence too, is a big deal. Especially for today's younger generation which texts more than emails and uses emojis as an extension of the alphabet.

Granted, 13 emojis don't encompass every type of disability that exists. Even Apple acknowledges that. But they did work with members of the disability community to be as comprehensive as they could. I think it is important that the initiative has been made. As the saying goes, you have to start somewhere.

So yes, while some may consider the new emojis as a frivolous perk of digital communication, I see them as a new aspect of cultural representation for disabled people. One that represents us in a positive and inclusive way. Unfortunately, still today, media and pop culture tends to get disability so wrong. Many movies, TV shows, and books that involve disabled characters layer their stories with a narrative of weakness, stigma and pity.

There is one more important distinction about the introduction of the new emojis that I think often gets overlooked. As it does in many aspects of living with a disability. And that is disability as a neutral. Specifically, that being disabled doesn't have to be a super-awesome-amazing-thing, nor does it have to be the most depressing-omg-I-want-to-die-thing. How about if disability JUST IS? That is many times all we are asking for. We just want to BE.

So if there are emoji's for playing soccer, or cooking or clapping, or yelling, why can't there be emojis for walking with a cane, driving a wheelchair or using sign language? It's just different colors of the same rainbow.

I am very cognizant of the very large and challenging issues facing-- threatening really-- the disability community. Everything from community care funding cuts, healthcare costs and medical bias, employment discrimination and accessibility barriers, all make being disabled a constant state of self-advocacy. The new disability emojis won't solve all those problems.

But at least they say "we see you." And without being seen, solving the big problems will make for an even steeper hill to climb.

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