Dozens of disability-themed emoji have met with approval from the Unicode Consortium and also received a thumbs-up from disability rights campaigners.

The new designs show people of different ethnicities using sign language or aids, such as wheelchairs, white probing canes, hearing aids, prosthetic limbs and guide dogs.

 A selection of the disability-themed emoji proposed by Apple in 2018.
A selection of the disability-themed emoji proposed by Apple in 2018.
Image: Apple/Emojipedia composite

Apple created a series of 13 original accessibility drawings after consulting with the American Council of the Blind and the National Association of the Deaf, which formed the basis of the new theme.

A total of 230 new pictographs feature in this sixth major update of the official emoji list, which also include other designs as diverse as a rickshaw, a sari and food items like falafel.

But who decides which pics we’ll be messaging to each other and which are consigned to emoji obscurity?

Thumbs up or thumbs down?

The California-based Unicode Consortium is a non-profit organization made up of representatives from computing companies, software developers and others. It is this panel of industry experts that approves new additions to the list and ensures standard emoji can be sent between different devices and apps.

Platform owners like Apple, Google and Facebook can alter Unicode’s designs slightly, but published emoji must be recognizable from one product to the next.

The panel also rules on controversial emoji, like the blood drop image, which represents menstruation and has just been added to the list. Unicode representatives rejected the original submission from Plan International UK, a girls’ charity, but accepted the blood drop.

Picture this

The word emoji stems from the Japanese for “picture” (e) and “character” (moji). The original emoji, created by Shigetaka Kurita, were highly pixelated images compared to their modern day, high resolution equivalents.

The images instantly convey meaning without the need to type and their appeal has only increased over time. Aside from their fun aspect, the small symbols have developed into a language that digital-savvy people need to learn to at least a basic level.

In today’s time-saving, effort-minimizing, text-speak world, pictures, gifs, videos and emoji are crowding out text. Why write about how happy you are when a smiley face says it all?

A recent report estimates that today, 95% of people online use emoji and they are so popular that they will begin to replace text as the key provider of content.

While an entire conversation using nothing but smiley faces, hearts and hand gestures might seem limiting to some, these themes represent the most widely used emoji.

Image: Brandwatch

The report’s findings are from a two-year study of emoji use on Twitter, and show that the top 20 images shared by females differ little from those most commonly used by males.

Approximately three-quarters of emoji use was positive, although negative use was most common in the evening.

But what of the future?

As well as replacing text, future emoji could further diversify with personalized (bitmojis) and animated (animojis) versions.

According to the report, our future use of emoji will be analyzed in real-time by brands, organizations and governments.

Those of us who don’t already speak fluent emoji might need a few lessons, as the report predicts the small images will cement their position as a global language of the future.