Four ways to make emojis accessible

Smiling Face With Smiling Eyes, Smiling Cat Face With Heart-Eyes, Hundred Points. If you don’t recognise those descriptions, perhaps you’re more familiar with their pictoral form – they're emojis.

An emoji is a graphic symbol that resembles animals, a physical object, human action, or an emotion. They are used in electronic messages, sometimes web pages but most often used in social media posts. Emojis have also become a useful way to communicate amongst the disabled community.Smiling face, laughing and heart-eyed emoji buttons

In our Don’t Disable Me: How you can avoid creating barriers for disabled people webinar, AbilityNet’s workplace inclusion experts with lived experience of disabilities mentioned how emojis can help neurodivergent individuals.  

AbilityNet Accessibility and Usability Consultant Rina Wharton, who is autistic and dyslexic, shared in the webinar how she tends to struggle a lot with facial expressions and body language, as well as written intentions. Rina shared how she uses emojis often to get her feelings across to someone else. “While writing, I know I can be very direct, because of my autism. I tend to use emojis to indicate, I'm joking. Or this is a funny thing,” she explained. 

While Adam Tweed, our workplace inclusion expert who also has experience with mental health conditions, shared how emojis have been an effective way to reduce anxiety and build trust with his colleagues, especially while working remotely.  

Emojis are eye-catching and fun to use but the real question is: Are emojis accessible?  

Like many digital practices, things can be accessible if done in an inclusive manner or process. Here are four top tips on how to keep emojis accessible. 

1. Don't overuse your emojis

Although emojis are fun to use and can make your social media posts stand out, you should be wary of using too many emojis. Emojis can often make your social media posts difficult to read for everyone, but in particular, for screen reader users who hear the short description (also known as alternative / alt text) for every emoji used. 

2. Use but don’t replace

Try not to use emojis as a replacement for a word. For example, if you are substituting the word “scary” with a scared emoji face, although some may be able to convey your message meaning, for a screen reader user a post may read “Halloween was so - face screaming in fear - this year”. Use an emoji at the end of a sentence so your message is clear for all.   

3. Remember to test emoji visibility in both dark and light modes   

Most often emojis look great in light mode on your digital device, however it is important to check how the emoji you want to use displays in dark mode as well. The higher the level of contrast the more accessible the emoji will be.

Black heart, new moon with face and paw prints emoji against dark mode chat box 

Image displays a black heart, new moon with a smiling face and paw print emojis against dark mode chat box.

4. Steer clear of emoticons

Emotions are punctuation marks, letters, and numbers used to create something that generally resembles an emotion. The most common emoticon is the smiley face.  For example, if you put it like this: :). Sometimes screen reader users may just hear "semicolon parentheses”.  It’s best to avoid emoticons and use emojis instead as they have alt text.  

The key takeaway for accessible emojis use is to use them sparingly and never in place of a word.  

As well as emojis, have you ever wondered whether your most recent social media post was accessible for all? Were the images featured captioned? Were the symbol fonts and hashtags accessible? 

Learn how to ensure your social media activity is accessible to all users in our upcoming Accessible Social Media training course.

For more emoji advice why not read?: