Every time I turn around, I feel like I am seeing people use emoji. They have become a defining pop culture element of today’s society. People of all ages are using emoji to convey different messages. As someone with a vision impairment, it’s hard to keep up with identifying emojis and understanding how to use them. In honor of World Emoji Day 2018, I will be sharing how people with vision impairments use emoji and explain how they should be used in communication.
What is an emoji?
An emoji (pronounced e-moh-gee) is “a small digital image or icon to express an idea, emotion, etc., in electronic communication.” While they have been around since 1998, they have become extremely popular in this last decade. Emoji can easily be found on social media, in text messages, and even in advertisements. Some common examples of emoji include a smiley face, face with heart eyes, fire, and airplane. There are over 1800 different emoji available with new additions every few months.
Learning emoji meanings
Each emoji has their own unique meaning, with some meanings that may not be so obvious. Whenever I am confused as to why a certain emoji was included in a text, I run a web search with the emoji followed by the phrase “definition” or “use.” I have found that the website Emojipedia is accessible with screen readers and I found it fairly easy to follow.
My favorite emojis
Since this post is for World Emoji Day, I’ve decided to list some of my favorite emoji for fun:
- 💜- I like using the purple heart because it looks unlike any of the other emoji colors so I can distinguish it easily, and purple is my favorite color because it is the color for migraine and Chiari Malformation awareness
- 😎- Since I wear tinted glasses, I jokingly say this sunglasses emoji describes me perfectly
- 👍🏻- I often use different colors for the thumbs up emoji depending on the background of my text message so that I can see it easier, or ask my friends to make the thumbs up and thumbs down emoji two different colors
- 🐅- I like the tiger emoji because tigers are my favorite animal. Not all emoji preferences have in depth reasons as to why they are awesome.
- All about Chiari Malformation
- Why I wear tinted glasses
- Colored backgrounds and the readability of text
How emoji show up with screen readers
Many people with blindness and low vision use screen readers or text-to-speech to interpret information on the screen. When reading a message with an emoji, a description of the emoji is read out loud.
If my friend sends me a message with a yellow heart at the end, my screen reader would read the message and identify the emoji as “yellow heart.”
In a more frustrating example, if my friend sends me five cake emojis, the screen reader will read “cake cake cake cake cake.”
This also applies for Twitter usernames. If someone has a bunch of emoji in their name, the screen reader will read all of it.
What emoji look like to me with low vision
Sometimes I use screen magnifiers or large print in order to read emojis instead of a screen reader. While emojis are often high quality images, I can have difficulty distinguishing which emoji is which without assistive technology. This has led to me sending several random emoji that make no sense. If someone sends me a bunch of different emoji that are the same color, I have trouble distinguishing them with my eyes alone. When this happens, I turn on the screen reader or ask my friend what they just sent me. While I can handle emoji in small amounts, having an entire text with them is not good for me, and can be disorienting with double vision.
People who use screen readers such as VoiceOver (iOS) or TalkBack (Android) have their emoji keyboards narrated to them. This way, they are able to read all of the emoji on the display screen and choose the perfect one. The emojis are not very large, so it’s easy to accidentally type the same emoji several times.
My preferred method of using emoji is inserting them via dictation. This is not a perfect method since sometimes it will insert the phrase instead of the emoji. A few of my friends have been recipients of texts that read “sunglasses emoji” and nothing else. It’s not a difficult process to insert emoji, but it may take some extra time.
Emoji vs Emoticon
Emoticons are interchangeable with emoji, for the most part. When most people think of emoticons, they think of symbols such as 🙂 being a smiley face. Many screen readers read that smiley face as “colon right parenthesis” so people may not know it’s a smiley face. If I am using a screen reader, it is easier to receive and understand an emoji than for an emoticon. If I am not using my screen reader and instead just using large print, I will type out emoticons and can read them easily. Sometimes my friends will include additional descriptions at the end of texts to ensure I am able to read the emoticon properly. My friend K will write a description of an emoticon in parenthesis after sending it.
Should I avoid texting my blind/low vision friends emoji?
Unless your friend has explicitly stated otherwise, it is perfectly fine to text them emoji. As mentioned, typing several in a row may be annoying. Also avoid putting emoji in the middle of words, as this will affect how messages are read by screen readers- a great example of how this sounds would be how singer Kesha’s stage name was pronounced Key-dollar-sign-ha since the “S” in her name was replaced with a “$.”
A blindness cane emoji
At the end of March, Apple debuted new emojis that feature people with disabilities and aspects of disability life. They include hearing aids, prosthetics, mobility aids, and my personal favorites- guide dogs and blindness cane emoji! This makes me very excited because I am glad to have my disability represented in emoji form. The proposed cane emoji even looks like my cane.
A fun way to communicate
Emojis are just another fun way to communicate expressions to friends and family over text. I’m very grateful that accessibility was considered when creating emoji. This way, people with vision impairments can join in on the fun of sending and receiving messages with the colorful picture icons. I can’t wait to see what other emoji come out in the future- maybe more vision impairment emoji?