It seems that just about everyone uses emojis these days, which is the reason there are such a wide variety of them. They have, however, taken a while to catch up in the diversity area. Initially, activists campaigned for the pictures to show a variety of skin tones, and succeeded in that goal. Then we got more emojis of women in professions (as opposed to just men) in the range. Now, people with physical impairments, such as wheelchair-users, are having their moment, with the UK disabilities charity Scope calling for an emoji revolution, proposing figures with disabilities for their demographic to use in the course of graphic communications. Considering that around 20% of the total workforce has some kind of disability, this is definitely not before time.
If you look at the emoji options on your smartphone, you will see that there really only exists one of these which is specific to a person with disabilities: the standard “wheelie blue” one, used as a universal symbol for disability, which has dismayed many people in this category. A lot of people with disabilities have complained that this symbol is too passive, and that mobility via a wheelchair is not a blanket disabled experience in any case. They don’t really enjoy using a symbol to represent themselves which most people associate with bathrooms. This is one reason that a more active version of the graphic has been proposed by designers, and an increasing number of corporations and cities are taking up the blueprint.
These new designs have been prompted by the disabled community, who have been questioning why it is currently possible to choose a range of professions and skin tones (both an important part of someone’s identity) but not a range of bodies and physical shapes. Emojis are not just cute, fun figures. They are also symbols of identity, pride, and belonging.
Individual people have different views of their disabilities: some take pride in their impairments, and view them as part of their identity, while others are more conflicted and challenged in their relationship with their conditions. In both of those cases, it can be very isolating when you never see yourself represented in the media and popular culture.
So it follows that something as basic as an emoji keyboard is important to people who are used to being marginalized in society, and citizens with disabilities want to be able to choose symbols which look like them and reflect their lives. They also hope that diversely representative symbols will help them to fight the disability stigma and negative attitudes by making physical impairments more visible to everyone.
The emojis designed by Scope are currently only in .jpg form, which users have to share manually, but they are laying the foundation for a future full emoji set. Are you paying attention, Unicode?
Picture courtesy of www.scope.org.uk