Move towards inclusivity: Apple plans new differently-abled emojis

By Tripti Chanda

As society evolves, so does the way it communicates. This can be seen from the fact that a concept which did not exist two decades ago has overcome the way we communicate. Everybody knows what emojis are, the successors of symbolic emoticons, their similarity to the word emotion, a happy coincidence. Their relevance in today’s world can be seen from the fact that the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji was named Word of the Year 2015, by the Oxford Dictionary. With Apple’s latest proposal to include new disability emojis in its latest update, the importance of emojis in our lives is brought into question.

Emojis for differently abled people

The emoji character set is a part of the basic Unicode character set available to all platforms. Private enterprises like Google and Apple make changes in the character set as per their UIs and adaptability. Unicode had earlier declared that there would be more than a hundred additions to its latest emoji collection. Apple has gone a step ahead to include emojis showcasing disability in people.

In its proposal, Apple said that it was a method for making the technology feel more inclusive towards everybody in the society. Though the emojis already provide a range of options to choose from, there was a wide gap of non-representation between the abled and differently-abled people. The proposed emojis would have a guide dog, a person in a wheelchair, a person with a cane, a prosthetic leg, a service dog and an ear with a hearing aid, amongst others. This would just be a preliminary inclusion, with a wider range of emojis to choose from later on.

The case for more diverse emojis

The fight for diversification of emojis has been going on for some time now. In 2017, on World Emoji Day, July 17, represented as the date on the emoji calendar, Apple decided to include people of various cultures represented in their ethnic clothes, different kinds of facial hair and more expressions. The year before, there was an update to level the game field in gender roles by having various emojis represented as both the sexes—in sports, professions, family structures. In 2012, the LGBTQ community was made a part of the art, and since 2014, there have been efforts to include people with different skin tones to be represented using the Fitzpatrick scale.

Each update has resulted from a social uprising of that particular year. In a way, it has chronicled the history of the digital society.  What started as a simple representation of the writer’s emotion has become a reflection of society in today’s time.

It’s not as simple as just the skin colour—there’s the flag, the clothes, the cuisine, the place of worship, absence of each showing a void of representation for the user. With each such diversification, Apple believes that it is inviting more people into the digital world, but is this just an entry to a never-ending loop?

Representation in the virtual world

After the announcement of the disability emojis, there have been cries from various dating platforms to The Unicode Consortium to include inter-racial couples in the mix. A proposal has been put forth, to include inter-racial and biracial couples so that people and children using the emojis are able to see their families represented.

This is another example of the minority in a society wanting inclusion. With each update, there are more voices raised than answered.  This is a society that is becoming aware of itself and its shortcomings and to not be represented in a platform which is such widely used would be akin to being rebuffed in the real world. Representation today is very important. A generation growing needs to know that whatever they are going through is normal and they have others in the world who feel the same. Emojis are a source of this acceptance.

Real-world impact of emojies

Where emojis had been made to convey tone through text, they now have political undertones. In a volatile world, the innocent emojis carry a lot of weight, introducing a question of race and political correctness where it would have never existed before. With all the social platforms bringing celebrities and world leaders closer to the common public, each user can be interpreted by the masses as they wish.

On one hand, they can be used for cultural representation while on the other it can be used for appropriation in a way not done before. These emojis, though completely digital, are made by humans with their own views and beliefs which reflects in their design in some way or the other. This wave of inclusivity is something great happening in the virtual world, all we need is a reflection of the same in the real world with the same vigour.

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