Emoji Accessibility


Emoji are graphical symbols that appear in many aspects of our lives. Worldwide, around 36 million people are blind and 217 million have a moderate to severe visual impairment. This portion of the population may use and encounter emoji, yet it is unclear what accessibility challenges emoji introduce. We first conducted an online survey with 58 visually impaired participants to understand how they use and encounter emoji online, and the challenges they experience. We then conducted 11 interviews with screen reader users to understand more about the challenges reported in our survey findings. Our interview findings demonstrate that technology is both an enabler and a barrier, emoji descriptors can hinder communication, and therefore the use of emoji impacts social interaction. Using our findings from both studies, we propose best practice when using emoji and recommendations to improve the future accessibility of emoji for visually impaired people.

Best Practice When Using Emoji

People who use emoji should consider the sender, the reader or recipient, and the platform that is being used to both send and receive the emoji. Understanding the needs of the end user should be a primary consideration.

  • 1) Number of Emoji: Repeated emoji can cause considerable annoyance and frustration. If you wish to say that something is amusing and are using the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji, consider that each time you add that emoji may increase the number of times the descriptor is read out. Therefore, consider how many emoji are necessary in content.

“So funny! :joy::joy::joy::joy::joy::joy:” vs. “So funny! :joy::joy::joy:

  • 2) Placement of Emoji: Consider that a sentence with emoji will be read by a screen reader as if the emoji were text. This is especially important because the descriptors may not match with your expectations (e.g., is read as “sun”, not “sunny”). Emoji in usernames (such as on Twitter) should be avoided. At a minimum, consider placing emoji at the end of your username, which means that screen reader users can skip past the emoji once they understand who is posting. Therefore, consider placing decorative emoji at the end of content, or at a minimum at the end of each line of content.

“It is :sunny: today.” vs. “It is sunny today :sunny:.”

  • 3) Purpose of Emoji: The descriptors for emoji are not always a clear indication of the visual design or the emotive intent. Such information should also be represented in the surround- ing text. Therefore, consider that emoji (or the descriptor) should not be used to convey critical information in content.

  • 4) Consideration of Reader: An understanding of how differ- ent users can perceive emoji is important. When your emoji has a greater reach (such as on a public platform), there is a greater chance that the emoji will be encountered by visually impaired people. Therefore, consider the wider context before using emoji and ensure that the accessibility of your content is evaluated before sending or sharing.

Associated Publications


  • Dr Garreth Tigwell, Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Dr Rachel Menzies - The University of Dundee