This past July, Apple announced that the company would soon release nearly 400 new emoji designs — a proclamation that tends to get iPhone fans all in a flutter. But when these designs were recently released as part of the iOS 13.2 update, they were met with mixed reviews.
Certainly, there are a number of designs that have delighted iPhone users. There’s an otter, a sloth, a waffle, and an increased number of people with varying skin tones. Overall, the set of new emojis is far more inclusive than before, depicting a number of gender-neutral options to appeal to users regardless of how they identify. There are also emojis depicting hearing aids, service dogs, sign language, sign language, and people who are blind or who need mobility assistance. But while this seems like a good idea on the surface, some people aren’t too happy with the release.
That’s not because people with disabilities don’t want representation or because able-bodied or cis-gendered people are largely against the emoji expansion. While some disability advocates are thrilled, some feel the efforts are extremely overdue. It wasn’t until last year that Apple proposed making these additions to their emoji collection — and considering that people with disabilities are now the largest minority group in the U.S., there are those who aren’t afraid to call out Apple for the delay.
In addition, others are criticizing Apple for (ironically) failing to be inclusive of those with intellectual and invisible disabilities. Certainly, many of us are familiar with disabilities that impact people on a physical level, as even temporary disability can result in financial and emotional frustration. If granted temporary disability benefits, individuals are entitled to two-thirds of their average weekly earnings — but eventually, they’ll be able to return to work and won’t be judged for their perceived physical limitations in the long term. Those with permanent disabilities, however, face even greater hardships. And people who have conditions like Down syndrome or other disabilities that can’t always be discerned by the average person are still left out of the conversation.
Others have expressed concerns for how these emojis might be used to further harmful stereotypes or even slurs. As one writer and mom pointed out in her Washington Post piece, it might be all too easy for a user to turn to a hearing-impaired or wheelchair emoji to send an off-handed insult to a friend for being “deaf” or “lame.” Some people who are impacted by disabilities question whether they want to see representation in this way, as it might make it seem like their disability is how they’re defined.
In the end, Apple can’t please everyone. And to the company’s credit, they reportedly consulted with well-regarded organizations for people with disabilities before submitting their emoji release proposal. It seems that this is at least a step in the right direction — albeit a belated and imperfect one — that will allow many iPhone users to see themselves reflected in these popular designs.