What happens if you can’t see emojis?

emojiTwo years ago I published a post here about how some people who are blind access a program called VoiceOver to use an iPhone — VoiceOver parrots every letter we type into a text, but it wasn’t until I upgraded to IOS 9 last month that I came face-to-face with an emoji.

A key next to the space bar on the iPhone keypad lets users choose from lists and lisps and lists of emojis to use with texts. VoiceOver reads the images out loud for those of us who can’t see them. Let me show you what I mean. Here’s a sampling of what I hear when choosing from the list of “Smileys and other people” emojis:

  • “miling face with sunglasses”
  • “Unamused face”
  • “Winking face with stuck-out tongue”
  • “Sleeping face”
  • “Nerdy face with thick horn-rimmed glasses and buck teeth”
  • “Neutral face”
  • “Excited face with money symbols for eyes and stuck-out tongue”
  • “Expressionless face”
  • “Smiling face licking lips”
  • “Slightly smiling face”
  • “Smirking face”
  • “Face with rolling eyes”
  • “Face with no mouth”
  • “Flushed face”
  • “Thinking face”
  • “Angry face”
  • “Pouting face”
  • “Disappointed face”
  • “Grinning face with clenched teeth”

Wait. Can a person clench their teeth and smile at the same time?


I guess you can! But would I ever want to see a picture of that on a text message? Dunno.

After the powers that be added 150 new emojis to their operating systems late last month, the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Ouch blog asked Damen Rose, a BBC reporter who is blind, to demonstrate what emojis sound like on his Smart Phone. I listened to the podcast and found myself agreeing with Damen when he lamented how the emoji craze is just one more example of how the technological world is becoming more and more visual. “We’ve sort of arrived at this glance culture, haven’t we, where we take in so many things at a glance on a screen,” he said. “We’re supposed to keep up with various events, understand different memes, get the references, et cetera, and it all happened soooo quickly and sooooooooo visually.”

I gotta admit, I do feel left behind sometimes. People doing quick smart phone checks for sports scores or news. Looking real quick at Facebook. Checking text messages at a glance. I just can’t keep up. Without being able to see, I’m not part of the “glance culture.”

But wait. Maybe there’s an “Eyebrows up!” emoji, and if there is, I need one right now. I mean, maybe I can’t just glance at a written description of an emoji, but isn’t it pretty incredible that technology companies have come this far with accessibility? That they actually found someone somewhere to write hundreds (thousands?) of emoji descriptions for people like me, who can’t see them?

I sure think so. My emoji? “Smiley face with eyebrows up.”


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  1. Rune Says:

    If you were to read a rating from 1 to 5 on an assistive technology review. What would you prefer?
    * 1-5 stars
    * one of five differnt smileys
    * just the number representing satisfaction (but maybe less intuitive)

  2. James Says:

    This is awesome that includes the blind to enjoy the creativeness of the emoji. Audio definitely enhances the emotion that an emoji conveys.


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