Apple proposes new set of accessibility emoji to improve representation

26 Mar 2018

Apple has created new emoji for people with disabilities such as hearing impairments. Image: GUNDAM_Ai/Shutterstock

Apple has created 13 new emoji to better represent people with disabilities.

Apple has asked the Unicode Consortium to consider adding emoji to broaden the spectrum of representation for individuals with disabilities.

13 new emoji have been proposed by the tech company in an effort to represent the experiences of those living with a disability or impairment.

Current emoji selection is too narrow

In its proposal, Apple noted that one in seven people around the world live with a disability, “whether that be a physical disability involving vision, hearing or loss of physical motor skills, or a more hidden, invisible disability”.

It added: “The current selection of emoji provides a wide array of representations of people, activities and objects meaningful to the general public, but very few speak to the life experiences of those with disabilities.”

Apple developed the 13 new emoji with organisations including the American Council of the Blind, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and the National Association of the Deaf. While the emoji created are not a comprehensive representation of different disabilities, Apple selected a set that would be most inclusive to a large number of people in four different categories: blind and low vision, deaf and hard of hearing, physical motor, and hidden disabilities.

The emoji include a guide dog, a person with a cane, people signing, an ear with a hearing aid and people in wheelchairs.

new apple emoji

A selection of the new emoji. Image: Apple

An inclusive culture

The company said: “At Apple, we believe that technology should be accessible to everyone and should provide an experience that serves individual needs. Adding emoji emblematic to users’ life experiences helps foster a diverse culture that is inclusive of disability.

“Emoji are a universal language and a powerful tool for communication as well as a form of self-expression, and can be used not only to represent one’s own personal experience, but also to show support for a loved one.”

The proposal provides some fascinating insights into the emoji design process. Apple had considered encoding just a character for a hearing aid by itself, but found it was not useful or distinctive at emoji scale. The company also created two different helper-dog emoji, as service and guide dogs wear somewhat different harnesses and leads. Both a manual and electric wheelchair were proposed, as some people with disabilities are unable to self-propel.

At present, there is only a single disability-related emoji available for users – the wheelchair symbol. Unicode is due to meet in April and, if it approves Apple’s proposal, this could see a broader choice of emoji become available in the second half of 2019 as part of Emoji 12.0.

157 new emoji are due to enter the fray in the second half of 2018 as part of Emoji 11.0.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects