Hearing Aid Emoji and Toy Representation: How hearing loss is more visible than ever
In mid-2019, Apple unveiled a selection of new emoji. While past iterations of emoji have included anything from baked goods to animals, this drop was different. Featuring a whole host of different disability-related emojis, from wheelchair users to bionic arms, iOS 12.3 has been the most inclusive launch thus far. But the additions we were most excited about was the hearing loss and hearing aid emoji, providing valuable awareness for one of the less-visible health issues that millions of people live with every day.
Why the hearing aid emoji is so important
What makes representation via emoji so important? For younger individuals with hearing loss or other hearing issues, wearing a hearing aid can be a daily challenge. Wearing hearing aids can have a direct impact on self-esteem, and can even be a root of anxiety for those that need to wear them every day. Despite significant advancements from the bulky solutions of the 1950s, hearing loss is often a visible condition in terms of behavior. Most hearing aids are also visible, even if they are smaller and more unobtrusive than ever.
Inclusivity has been a buzzword the past few years, gaining traction in many different communities and areas. From individuals with invisible illnesses to those with prosthetic limbs, wheelchair users to those with other genetic conditions. The internet has provided a way for people to be more forthcoming about their differences – especially when it comes to social media. As such, it makes perfect sense that emoji that are used socially thousands of times every hour should be just as inclusive as its audience. Very few people don’t use emoji these days, so why not ensure everyone has a voice?
One of the critical elements of the emoji update is that Apple makes no specific distinction between disability-focused designs and other releases. This further normalises hearing aids and other disabilities, making them part of the everyday lives around us as opposed to an odd or unusual thing. For teenagers and adults with hearing aids and hearing loss, being able to represent themselves online is the norm more than ever. Emoji are an extension of that, providing an added layer of normalcy to living with hearing loss.
Hearing loss representation with toys
For younger children, representation of hearing loss has often been something lacking in their toys of choice. But with the introduction of American Girl of the Year Joss, hearing aids have a brand-new face of representation. As a surfer and cheerleader, Joss’s hearing loss is the least interesting thing about her – but the inclusion of her hearing aid makes her the first American Girl Doll with a disability in history. Described as having congenital hearing loss in her left ear, the new American Girl Doll with hearing loss represents an important segment of her target audience – children who wear hearing aids themselves.
The reason why representation is so important for younger children is it helps to make differences healthy to them. The introduction of Joss, alongside strides being made by other brands, helps to show that people are not defined by their disability, it’s just a small part of who they are as a person. With Mattel now introducing Barbie dolls with wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs, it seems like a hard-of-hearing Barbie might not be off the cards either.
By making hearing loss and other hearing conditions less about being separate and more about being the same – with a little extra help – younger children can develop a better understanding of inclusivity at a younger age. As hearing loss becomes a more talked-about and seen thing, children will likely gain a better understanding of the fact it’s a common condition. While this is important for children who experience hearing loss or hearing problems, it’s just as crucial for children with normal hearing to understand and normalise hearing loss.
Is awareness of hearing loss important?
Hearing loss isn’t just a condition that affects older people. It can affect children and adults of all ages, whether through genetic factors, injury, or illness. Awareness and inclusivity of hearing loss must be made available to people of all ages. From emoji to dolls and toys, we’re well on our way to normalising hearing aids and hearing loss. Which, in our opinion, is an excellent thing for the future of how the world sees hearing loss as a whole.
For adults who have grown up with hearing loss or hearing issues, they are already aware of the anxiety and self-esteem issues that hearing aids can cause. By beating that outdated stigma and making the general population more knowledgeable about hearing loss, it’s possible for those with hearing loss today to have a much more positive experience. With many schools now teaching ASL to their students, and better representation on children’s TV, we’re on our way towards a more inclusive future for people with hearing loss.
Mattel’s dolls with disabilities and Apple’s new emoji are a step in the right direction. As hearing loss becomes a more significant part of day-to-day life, as well as pop culture, it will become more evident that hearing aids – and related conditions – aren’t something to be ashamed of. If you think that you may be suffering from hearing loss yourself, the best first step is to do a hearing test. Act today, or sign up to our newsletter to learn more about what Signia can offer you.