Emoji are everywhere. They are in my text conversations, labels for folders, social media applications, and sometimes even show up on the TV. It can be challenging for me to use emoji at times due to my low vision, since I can’t always see the smaller or more intricate designs, though I have learned a lot about emoji accessibility and using emoji with visual impairments. In honor of World Emoji Day, here are my tips for using emoji with low vision, and how to make emoji accessible for low vision and blind users.
What is an emoji?
An emoji 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 its 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 filled with lots of helpful information.
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
- 👩🦯- This emoji of a woman using a blindness cane is fantastic not only in terms of disability representation, but because the cane looks a lot like mine
- 👍🏻- 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 one of my favorite animals. Not all emoji preferences have in depth reasons as to why they are awesome.
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.
- How To Make ASCII/Emoji Memes Accessible For Visual Impairment
- Twitter Accessibility Features For Low Vision
What emoji look like to me with low vision
Sometimes I use screen magnifiers or large print 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.
There are a few different options for typing emoji that are easier for people with low vision than using the traditional emoji keyboard:
- Use VoiceOver or TalkBack to browse through the emoji keyboard and have names of emoji read out loud
- Type in the name of an emoji with the search function on the emoji keyboard
- Add emoji with dictation by saying the name of an emoji and the word emoji, i.e “tiger emoji”
Emoji vs Emoticon
Emoticons are interchangeable with emoji. 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” if a user has not customized their screen reader’s pronunciation dictionary. 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 can read emoticons the same way I read other text, as they display in large print.
Should I avoid texting my blind/low vision friends emoji?
Unless your friend has explicitly stated otherwise, it is perfectly fine to text low vision or blind friends 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 “$.”
More tips for using emoji with low vision
- Users can insert emoji on Windows devices by pressing the Windows key and the period key.
- When sending an emoji to someone who uses a Braille display, the name of the emoji will be displayed
- A text that is sent with a single emoji and nothing else will display a large version of the emoji
- Emoji appearance may vary depending on what operating system or app- emoji sent in WhatsApp will look different than the emoji sent in the Android messaging app.