Inclusive new emojis offer representation for people with disabilities

7 Feb 2019

Still from ‘First Look: All 230 New Emojis for 2019’. Image: Emojipedia/YouTube

The Unicode Consortium has unveiled a new generation of emojis coming out this year, including images of people with disabilities.

For many of us, emojis add cheer and context to our daily communications, but they can also help create more digital inclusivity. This week, a whole host of new emojis was unveiled by the Unicode Consortium, the organisation that manages the distribution of emojis around the world.

It has announced that 230 new emojis will be making their way to platforms across the world during 2019. As well as additions including a waffle, a sloth, a Hindu temple and a yawning face, an array of new characters that represent disability and accessibility is on the way.

More inclusive emojis

Unicode explained that it had been working towards more inclusive representation in emojis over the last number of years. The body added skin-tone support in 2015 and increased representation of women the year after. The latest emoji update, the sixth major roll-out since 2014, includes people with various disabilities.

The idea was proposed last year by tech giant Apple, which said: “Adding emoji emblematic to users’ life experiences helps foster a diverse culture that is inclusive of disability.”

While the various platform owners are free to tweak the Unicode designs to fit their own brand identity, they must ensure that each character is recognisable across different platforms.

The latest update shows men and women using equipment such as hearing aids and motorised wheelchairs, as well as individual items such as prosthetic limbs and canes used by people with visual impairments.

Boosting representation for people with disabilities

Phil Talbot from the UK disability charity Scope said: “Social media is hugely influential and it’s great to see these new disability-inclusive emojis. Up to now, disability has been greatly underrepresented.”

Talbot added that there is still more to be done to better represent people with disabilities across all parts of traditional and social media.

As well as representation for people with disabilities, a new blood drop emoji is being introduced to symbolise menstruation. This follows a campaign by Plan International, with help from the UK National Health Service.

They wrote: “Not only would a blood drop emoji be relevant for hundreds of millions of women and people who menstruate all around the world, it would also show that periods aren’t taboo and they are something we should be able to talk about openly and honestly.”

Another new addition will allow users to depict people of different races and genders holding hands.

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