February 14, 2019

Large Companies Starting To Hear Disability Advocates

Michael L. Sack

Not too often does the disability community have a chance to celebrate a moment of realization. Indeed, people with impairments have to fight more than their peers to get recognition. That changed in a big way this month when three large organizations – Apple Inc., Major League Baseball, and Mattel – made announcements that will delight most advocates.

Last year, Apple Inc. contacted the Unicode Consortium and suggested they add emojis that are disability-related to their 2019 array of emoticons. Advocates had said that there were not enough symbols that represented that particular group.

After months of communicating with disability services, Apple ultimately announced in early February that they would be debuting 13 specifically designed emojis to reflect people with disabilities. The 13 new symbols cover a bunch of impediments: people in manual and electric chairs, people who are hard of hearing, and people who have artificial limbs. There is also a service dog emoji.

Adding symbols to represent all kinds of people could be very helpful. Children are using iPhones and iPads at a younger age now and if they get introduced to these symbols, they might be more open to coming up to someone who looks a little different from them. Honestly, I am uncertain how I will use these emojis, but it is still fantastic they are going to be premiered later this year.

Meanwhile, as disability supporters were pressuring Apple in California, they were doing the same at MLB’s headquarters in New York. That group was concerned over the term, “Disabled List”. Since 1966, that phrase has been used in the minors and majors to signify that a player is injured. Realizing the significance of the debate, it was learned last week that in December MLB told clubs they are going to change the name to the “Injured List.” That switch will start this month as spring training gets underway.

In a recent ESPN article, Jeff Pfeifer, the league’s senior director of economics and operations, explained why MLB made the change: “The principal concern is that using the term ‘disabled’ for players who are injured supports the misconception that people with disabilities are injured and therefore are not able to participate or compete in sports.”

It never really bothered me that MLB used the word “disabled.” Nonetheless, I applaud MLB for listening to the community and making this change. I did not mind them using the word because, according to dictionary.com, disabled means “to make unable or unfit.” That is what a player is when on the now-Injured List: They are unable to play the sport. Seeing the big picture, though, this is the right move by the league to clarify what the designation actually means.

This post wouldn’t be complete without some very important Barbie news! Mattel informed their supporters February 12 that they will make new dolls, including one who is in a wheelchair and another with a detachable artificial leg. Since I am out of the Barbie loop, take a gander at an article that has all the deets. The dolls will be available to purchase this June.

It certainly has been a busy start of the month for disability awareness. Let us see what comes next!

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