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Emojis and Accessibility: How to make emojis accessible

With technology constantly evolving, so does our communication. We have reached a time where we want to communicate quicker and quicker. Emails have become Teams chats. Phone calls have become WhatsApp messages.  

Emojis have helped us do this. Giving our quick messages a bit more personality, conveying in tiny graphic symbols what we don’t always have time to explain. We love them, and have reached a point where over 10 BILLION emojis are sent every single day 

However, trying to add more personality and humanity with emoji-filled messages, emails, and social posts, might actually be having the opposite effect. For people with accessibility needs – especially those who rely on screen readers – they might have significant difficulties understanding content that uses emojis heavily. 


How do people with visual impairment use emojis? 

Before looking into how to use emojis accessibly, it might be useful to understand how people with accessibility needs interact with them.  

This video from Accessible Social, a free resource that shares best practice for creating inclusive social media content, shows how a tweet that includes lots of emojis would sound to a person who uses a screen reader.  

While we perhaps can’t blame Taylor Swift herself, this video does highlight a lack of awareness of challenges posed by people with visual impairments. With every emoji being read out individually, it can make your content much harder to digest and can often get in the way of the core message. Depending on the emoji used, it could also give your sentence a whole different meaning entirely when read out on a screen reader.  

So, how can we use emojis while also making our content easy to access by all? 

Let’s take a look at some top tips. 


How can I use emojis in an accessible way?

Content with emojis is great, but how do we make sure not to exclude people with what we post? Whether in messages, emails, or social media posts, consider these things before including emojis. 

  1. Don’t overuse them 
    Keep your use of emojis to a minimum. While they might be fun for people without accessibility needs, those with visual impairments can be very overwhelmed by emoji-heavy content. 

  2. Stick to the default yellow  
    When read aloud by a screen reader, emojis with custom skin tones get extra information added to their descriptions. For example, this is how the following would sound:
    👋 = Waving Hand
    👋🏻 = Waving Hand: Light Skin Tone
    👋🏼 = Waving Hand: Medium Light Skin Tone

    As you can imagine, if the custom skin tones are read out within a sentence, it might confuse the message you are trying to convey.

    While there are potentially diversity benefits in using other skin tones, sticking to the default yellow is considered best practice. It avoids any exclusion and is also much easier for people who use screen readers to understand!

  3. Don’t replace words with emojis

    Emojis should never replace words, they should enhance them.

    For example:

    We put you at the ❤️ of our services.

    Would be read out at this:

    We put you at the re️d heart of our services.

    Someone using a screen reader would likely understand what you’re trying to say, however it certainly makes it more of a challenge. Avoid using emojis to replace entire words.

  4. Put your emojis at the end of sentences

    Best practice for accessibility is to put emojis at the end of sentences, which means avoiding using them as bullet points too. While it might look good using them this way, it can be very confusing for people who use screen readers. Having them at the end of your sentences is a great way to ensure accessibility for a wider audience.

  5. Avoid emojis that don’t work in the dark  

    While ‘dark mode’ becoming available on many software, programmes and sites is fantastic for people with light sensitivity, it does add a challenge when choosing emojis.

    Often, emojis that look great in ‘light’ mode don’t translate so well in dark mode. It’s important to keep this in mind for people with visual impairments, who may miss this part of your content.  

Accessible emojis - final thoughts

Accessibility and emojis can go together. Stick to using them to enhance your content rather than having them as the main component of your messages or posts. Spend some time educating yourself on general best practice around accessibility and communication.

Ultimately, use them mindfully, and your content can be enjoyed by all.  

Thinking about accessibility?

So are we. Accessibility has been something of a journey for us at Hable over the last few years, and we now feel we're ready to share what we've learnt with other organisations too. We are currently offering an Accessibility Assessment service to help assess how inclusive your digital workplace is for people with disabilities. Explore more today. Start your accessibility journey.

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