More than a wheelchair; Emojis to better represent people with disablilties


Every day, billions of emojis are sent back and forth on social media applications and have come to play a quite significant role in the world of text communication. There has been quite a bit of initiative to make emojis more diverse, to depict people with different skin tones and same sex couples and so on; however, there is only one to represent disability – a wheelchair user sign, which is also often used as an accessible toilet sign.

One London based advocacy group paralympic-emojis_blog-image-2decided to take matters into their own hands. “This one symbol can’t represent me and the people [with disabilities] I know. To truly represent the world we live in, [we] should be included in a way that reflects the diversity of our lives,” said Rosemary Frazer, the campaign for Scope, a British charity that provides support, information, and advice for more than a quarter of a million people with disabilities and their families every year.

With over 1,800 different emojis and only one that just slightly represents the disability community, Scope recognized that the disability community deserved further representation. They polled more than 4,000 Twitter users to discover that 65% believe one emoji to represent disability is simply not enough.

Even despite a recent emoji keyboard update, which now includes medals and sports to commemorate the Olympics, there was no recognition of the Paralympics. Thus Scope got to work, and recently created a series of 18 new emojis that can be used to portray people with varying abilities in hopes that their efforts would influence and inspire Unicode, the organization that oversees emojis, to represent people with disabilities in a positive light. Their icons include wheelchair users, individuals with prostheses, a service dog, those with hearing impairment, and other disabilities engaging in a wide range of activities. The charity has also released emojis featuring several Paralympians, including four-time gold medalist swimmer Ellie Simmonds and world famous tennis player Jordanne Whiley.

This brings us to another important matter; those with disabilities do not necessarily want to be treated differently, they do not want to be perpetually handled with kid gloves and to be constantly reminded that they are vulnerable. In fact, many studies show that in the work place, those with disabilities can often be more productive, more hard working, and more loyal than their co-workers that do not have disabilities.

One of the first steps in achieving equality for the disability community begins with the care they receive from health professionals, which is why at DirectCourse we offer important training in our College of Recovery and Community Inclusion. This teaches our mental health practitioners how to help those with mental health conditions lead self-directed, satisfying lives.

People with disabilities make up nearly 20% of the U.S. population, a considerable number; thus it’s important we consider their point of view. They simply are asking to be treated as equals, to get the recognition everyone else does, the recognition they deserve. They crave the same representation as someone with a different skin tone, or someone with a different ethnic background. So if someone from a varying cultural background achieves representation on the emoji board, why can’t we create a few more emojis for the disability community? We wouldn’t be surprised if in the next few emoji keyboard updates we saw an incorporation of a few more emojis!

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