The Accessibility of Emojis
It's hard to imagine digital communication without emojis and other colorful images. In the following, we will look at how accessible they are.
- General tips
- Visually impaired
- Emojis for persons with learning disabilities
- Learning disabilities/mental disabilities
- Autistic and Asperger
- Emojis and the different platforms
If you are communicating with an individual whose disability is known to you or in a manageable group, then simply ask for personal preferences. Preferences for autistic, blind, or visually impaired persons vary from person to person and can only be covered here in general terms.
However, one principle applies without exception: it is best to do without irony altogether, this is almost always not understood by a person within a group, especially if the irony is implied by an emoji or similar. Hence the advice to refrain from emoji chains that contradict each other. What is it supposed to tell me when someone posts a laughing face and a sad face in a row? Is he happy, sad, was his statement meant to be funny or negative?
In general, we advise against the use of clustered and mutually contradictory emojis. Also, keep in mind that content is preferably used on mobile devices and may not be recognized there simply because of its small size.
Blind persons naturally use emojis. Emojis dominate especially in social networks and in chat apps like WhatsApp. There, they are also used by blind persons. Of course, that wouldn't work if they weren't read aloud as well.
The emojis are sometimes described excessively:
- "Clapping hand with light skin color".
- "Face with glasses and buck teeth"
- "Smiling face with narrowed eyes".
In the case of emoji keyboards integrated in iOS and Android, readings are made to the individual emojis. Emojis that come from other keyboards may not be read aloud.
On the desktop PC, emojis are read aloud by default. However, this can be turned off in the screen reader. However, writing emojis on the PC with on-board tools has been complicated so far and is usually refrained from by blind persons.
Where do the descriptions come from?
It is important to know that the descriptions come from the Unicode Consortium and thus have a quasi general character. Theoretically, however, the manufacturers of the keyboards can also integrate their own descriptions. However, they would only work within their own ecosystem. If I write from an Apple device to a blind Android user, he might receive a different description.
This also means that emojis that are not part of the Unicode standard are not described. It is possible to store descriptions in the keyboards. However, these are not read out when the emojis are inserted into the text field. The recipient does not even get them read out, even if he has installed the same keyboard as the sender. There is no such thing as an alternative text for emojis.
When communicating with blind persons, you should especially avoid the accumulation of emojis. You have seen the descriptions above. Imagine you get something like that read out ten or 20 times within a message. The message is artificially inflated and it is difficult for us to skip such texts. In general, however, there is nothing against their use in private communication.
Emojis are used quite differently depending on your eyesight. Since they are primarily used on smartphones, vision is crucial for recognizing emojis correctly. A few familiar emojis dominate in both usage and what the visually impaired can recognize.
The more exotic or complex an emoji is, the more likely it is that a visually impaired person will not recognize it. It's the details like facial expressions or twisted eyes that are difficult to recognize. Like sighted persons, visually impaired persons will also not spend more time than necessary to decipher the emojis. Therefore, also here the recommendation to rather rely on familiar, on few and easily recognizable emojis.
Emojis for persons with learning disabilities
For persons with learning disabilities, emojis can make texts more understandable. They can be recognized more easily and intuitively than full-length texts. However, it is important that they are used appropriately. It can happen that only the emojis and not the surrounding text are perceived. An accumulation of emojis, as is common in private communication, can then confuse rather than help. In addition, the emojis or their statements should not contradict each other.
Learning disabilities/mental disabilities
For persons with intellectual disabilities, it is difficult to make a general statement about the accessibility of emojis. It is true that they are familiar with taking in information from graphics. On the other hand, there are now several thousand emojis, some of which are complex or ambiguous. However, the common emojis as found everywhere every day as well as emojis that do not require interpretation should be understood.
Autistic and Asperger
On the subject of autism, it is important to know that any form of distraction can be perceived as disturbing. Unfortunately, this includes emojis in a continuous text. If you want to specifically reach persons with autism, I would generally advise against the use of emojis. Especially in their accumulation and colorfulness, they are an element of the disorder.And as described above, they are especially problematic when they are contradictory. Irony and sarcasm are generally to be avoided on the Internet.
Since deaf persons generally prefer visual communication, emojis should generally benefit them. However, as always, they should be communicatively unambiguous. And if they accompany a text that is already difficult to understand, they really don't help.
Emojis and the different platforms
Simple at first glance, emojis are quite complicated in practice. All official emojis are identified by a unique code. This allows them to be displayed on any operating system that contains this code table, which should be all mainstream systems at least. But at least the big providers like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and probably some others each have their own representations of common emojis. So the emoji "grinning dog poop" might look different on Windows than on iOS. For a sighted person, this should not be a problem, but for a visually or Cognitive impaired person, this could make recognition more difficult. It could also be problematic if the display is changed by the platform itself at some point. Apple is constantly improving the quality of its displays. As a result, an emoji from ten years ago might not look as nice on a current device. So you adjust it, show more details, for example. But then it might not look as good on an old display as the user expects.