Facebook Rolls Out New Avatar Options for People with Disabilities

Published February 9, 2022

In a blog post published on January 31st, 2022, the General Manager for Avatars and Identity at Facebook parent company Meta Aigerim Shorman announced a huge overhaul of Avatars on all its major platforms. Shorman’s post boasted overall improvements to 3D Avatars on Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram that enhance the look and realism of the avatars while also offering options with more diversity in order to make Avatars more representative of what users actually look like. With diversity, inclusion, and accurate representation in mind, Shorman announced that this new rollout of Avatars will offer options for people with disabilities that include their assistive devices.

What’s new for people with disabilities

According to the Meta blog post, when building an Avatar, people will be able choose Cochlear implants and over-the-ear hearing aids for one or both ears in a variety of color options. Wheelchairs will also be available as an option. Hearing devices will be available on all platforms (Facebook, Messenger, Instagram) including VR. Wheelchair options will appear in stickers on Facebook, in Messenger chats, and in DMs on Instagram. 

More inclusive for everyone

Shorman’s post asserted Meta’s commitment to ensuring Avatars on all platforms “better reflect the billions of unique people on this planet.” With that goal in mind, the new Avatar rollout also includes the addition of new facial shapes to provide as many options as possible for people to choose from to accurately represent themselves. The new face shape options were accompanied by subtle adjustments to the existing options and tweaks to the skin shading options, all so that each individual’s Avatar can look and feel authentic and represent their distinctiveness as accurately as possible.

The facial additions and tweaks were a natural progression in a slew of improvements Facebook made throughout 2021 that gave users a more diverse set of options in eyes, noses, beards, hairstyles, outfits, and body types.

Be yourself, right now

The more diverse and inclusive options are available now in North America and select other countries, with full expansion down the road. The new options are available on all of Meta’s platforms, including Instagram which has not offered any Avatars up until this rollout. Users can create one Avatar for use on all three platforms—Messenger, Facebook, and Instagram—or make three separate Avatars. Whatever you choose, your Avatar can represent you on all three platforms in profile pictures, messaging, comments, and most importantly, the increasingly popular Stories on both Facebook and Instagram. No word yet on the addition of prosthetic options, seeing-eye dogs, or white canes, though some of those options are available in updated emoji keyboards while other options are available in Memojis for Apple users.

Is Meta the future?

When Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg announced the formation of “Meta” as the parent company and umbrella which Facebook and the company’s other social media platforms would live under, he also unveiled a grandiose vision of the future for Facebook, social media, VR technology, and society at large. His stated vision in that announcement in October 2021 was that Meta would be a “set of interconnected digital spaces that lets you do things you can’t do in the physical world.” On its surface, that vision could certainly sound appealing to people with disabilities, and VR does possess the potential to create worlds in which people with disabilities can move about more freely and have richer experiences than they can in the corporeal and often inaccessible world. Only time will tell if Zuckerberg’s vision is only that or if it becomes a reality, virtual or otherwise. But if Zuckerberg is truly committed to seeing that vision come to fruition, it might be prudent to acknowledge the significant role people with disabilities would have in his vision by being early adopters of the “Metaverse future.”

To that end, the representation of people with disabilities in Avatars is a great first step in making people with disabilities feel more comfortable inside that vision, but it is only a first step. Ideally, Meta would continue its efforts to increase representation options for people with disabilities but also work to ensure that all its current platforms and future technologies are inclusive and accessible.


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