Accessibility & Inclusion

Four Ways to Make Emojis More Accessible

December 16, 2022 4 minute read
Unlock the power of emojis for all users! Our tips on making emojis accessible ensure nobody misses out on the fun and expression they bring to digital conversations.

While they may seem trivial or even silly to some, emojis have undeniably become an integral part of our culture. In fact, emojis have permeated the modern zeitgeist to the point that there are emoji toys, keychains, t-shirts. Heck, there has even been an emoji movie.  

When thinking about emojis, the last thing that is likely to come to most people’s minds is web accessibility. There is every reason it should, however, as making emojis accessible for people with disabilities is essential for those looking to provide a great website experience for all their potential website visitors. 

Like images, which have their meaning translated by screen readers via alt text, emojis are also understood through a type of alt text known as ‘the Unicode string’. Sounds complex and quite intimidating, like something from a matrix movie, right? But relax, the Unicode string is essentially just another form of alt text that is used by browsers and operating systems to properly understand and display emojis. 

Some people with blindness or low vision make use of programs that are specifically designed to allow those with disabilities to use emojis, however the use of these devices is still relatively rare.  

With this in mind, let’s take a look at four quick and easy ways to make your emojis more accessible. 

Four simple tips to make emojis more accessible

If you have decided that you want to include emojis on your website, there are a few general best practices that are advisable to keep in mind. 

While not comprehensive, the following tips will help keep you on the right track when using emojis on your website. 

1. Don’t overdo it

A well placed emoji can definitely provide a little bit of added flair or humor to a message, but it is wise to use them sparingly, as an overload of them will quickly become tiresome for those reliant on assistive technologies like screen readers. For this reason, it is advisable to limit your use of emojis to a maximum of three per message. 

Also, try to avoid repeating the same emoji over and over again. It may (arguably) add a little bit of visual punctuation to a statement, but for those reliant on assistive technologies, it is simply time consuming and, in truth, a little infuriating. 

2. Don’t substitute text with an emoji 

Although emojis can certainly be described with words, they are not one and the same thing. Although technology exists that can read out the description or name of a given emoji, this service is far from infallible, and mismatches often occur which leave users of assistive technology baffled and excluded. 

Certain fruits, without going into unnecessary detail, have become associated with meanings that are, shall we say, less than literal in the emoji realm, for example. While this is not something that can exactly be helped, it can cause confusion for users of assistive technologies. This is down to the fact that, without the associated visual cues, the meaning of emojis can easily become lost or difficult to comprehend.  

Try to keep in mind that emojis shouldn't be used as a one-for-one substitute for text, but rather as an enhancement or garnish to your written content. At the end of the day, you don’t want to drown a perfectly good meal in garnish. 

3. Test visibility in both light and dark modes

The visibility, or lack thereof, of emojis can be a source of frustration for those with low vision. To help these potential visitors, always remember to test the visibility of emojis in both light and dark modes to ensure that they can be clearly perceived in both settings.  

4. Avoid emoticons 

Emoticons are short sequences of keyboard letters and symbols, commonly imitating facial expressions, that can be used to communicate a particular emotion, mood, or tone. As screen readers and other assistive technologies will often simply read out the characters expressed in a literal fashion, and not their visually implied meaning, they should be avoided.

Main Takeaway

Let's be clear — nobody here is saying that emojis are some terrible ‘no no’ in the world of web accessibility. In fact, when used correctly, and with a little bit of restraint, they can live in perfect harmony with your other website content. 

At the same time, just remember that they should be used with just a little bit of care and consideration unless you want to alienate and confuse some of your disabled visitors. 

Want to see how your website stacks up for accessibility? Get a free website scan to see how our Web Accessibility Platform can help you achieve your goals and stay compliant.