They have become a second language for a huge proportion of humankind, but that universality can be excluding to those for whom it doesn’t function properly, or doesn’t represent. This World Emoji Day, however, two major campaigns are looking to change that, by making emojis more inclusive.
A collaboration between creative agency We Are Social and the Royal National Institute of Blind People has seen the two organisations redesign our most used emojis to make them more accessible to the blind and partially sighted. People with sight loss, the team explains, often struggle to use emojis due to their complex detail, such as shading, colour, contrast, and subtle differences in facial expressions. They also have difficulty identifying emojis when three or more are used in a row, as well as selecting an emoji, as they are uncategorised and grouped closely together.
“Emojis have become the world’s favourite language, but for a significant minority they are another way that they’re excluded from everyday life,” says We Are Social’s Alistair Campbell. “While it may not seem like a big deal, imagine being the teenager that’s not able to communicate the same way as your peers and how that must feel. It’s easy to overlook that, for many people living in the UK, this ‘inclusive’ language is actually the opposite.”
The two creative teams therefore set about designing prototypes for eight of the most popular emojis. These redesigns have more prominent and defined eye shapes, for example, because eyes were found to be an important factor in communicating emotion. The teams have also begun developing a style guide to address issues on colour, contrast and shading, and guidelines to help brands use emojis in a more inclusive way for blind and partially sighted people. The prototypes are currently undergoing testing and will first be made available to users as a sticker pack. Campbell adds that the team hopes that more accessible emojis will be adopted as standard by Unicode.
Meanwhile, Martin Wingfield from the RNIB has advice for making our current emoji use more inclusive and easier to understand for those with sight loss, by “not using similar emojis together, leaving spaces between them, and placing them at the end and not in the middle of a sentence. Also, placing all information before using an emoji helps to keep blind and partially sighted people in the conversation.”
Also attempting to make emojis more inclusive, in its own way, Apple has released images of the emojis that will be landing in iPhone keyboards later this year. Alongside offering the Holding Hands emoji in all skin tones (creating 75 possible combinations), the latest haul features a collection of disability-themed emojis as a result of Apple’s proposal to the Unicode Consortium last year. A guide dog, an ear with a hearing aid, two different wheelchairs, a prosthetic arm and a prosthetic leg all feature in the set, which Apple says “help fill a significant gap in the emoji keyboard.”