Voices

It’s 2016. Why are there no wheelchair emojis?

An illustration of a close-up of two hands holding a phone. In the phone screen, there is the upper body of a girl in blue with upraised arms and a confused expression on her face. On the right side, there is a speech bubble in which there is a girl sitting on a wheelchair. On the left side, there is another bubble in which there is a girl standing with crutches.

It’s a crying shame that the only widespread reference to disability in the world of emoticons is the stick-figure wheelchair logo, best known for indicating the presence of accessible bathrooms.

We’re all accustomed to new trends on the internet, whether they’re emoticons, smiley faces, or the new and popular Bitmojis. A Bitmoji is a personal avatar or emoji that resembles the person creating it. It is mainly used on Snapchat, but can also be used on other platforms.

If you ask me, it’s a pretty cool idea. The idea of making one’s own avatar with different expressions, emotions and sayings is fascinating to me. So, like many other millennials, I downloaded the Bitmoji app, synced it with Snapchat, and proceeded to create my own avatar!

I could modify my skin tone, the length and style of my hair, the colour of my hair and eyes, and the shape of my nose, eyes, mouth, and face. I even had the option of adding a hijab, which is mind blowing because not many emojis have portrayals of women in hijab. I could also choose the kind of clothes my avatar could wear – including options from a number of designers that I normally wouldn’t be able to afford. I kept pressing the ‘next’ button, thinking that there would be an option for me to choose a wheelchair or crutches as an additional element to create a realistic avatar of myself, but there wasn’t one.

This left me a little angry and upset. Even in the old days of AIM, ICQ, Orkut, MSN messenger and Yahoo messenger, there was no wheelchair emoticon. Perhaps that’s understandable, since technology wasn’t so advanced and the vast majority of these platforms had newly launched.

It’s a crying shame that the only widespread reference to disability in the world of emoticons is the stick-figure wheelchair logo, best known for indicating the presence of accessible bathrooms.

But we’re living in 2016, and both our technology and our understandings of diversity and cultural appropriation have come so far – so why isn’t there a wheelchair emoji?

People with disabilities are often left out of conversations about diversity and minority rights. This is clearly reflected in this case. Bitmoji has had many updates, but has failed to represent users on wheelchairs or using crutches.

As for Whatsapp and Facebook, there are emojis of people swimming and dancing, but absolutely nothing for people using aids for transportation that are not legs.

It’s a crying shame that the only widespread reference to disability in the world of emoticons is the stick-figure wheelchair logo, best known for indicating the presence of accessible bathrooms. There’s a move to replace this with the accessible icon, but we need more.

Scope recently featured eighteen emoticons of people with disabilities in honour of the Paralympics – an effort which is commendable, but unfortunately nowhere near mainstream.

Why is it difficult to create something so that people with disabilities don’t feel segregated?

What else can we call this kind of situation but yet another example of blatant discrimination?

Featured image credit: Alia Sinha

About the author

Virali Modi

Virali Modi is a Quora writer, blogger, motivational speaker, aspiring actress, 1st Runner Up of Ms. Wheel Chair India 2014 and a disability rights advocate. Oh, and she forgot to mention that she is disabled, as if that really matters.

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