World Emoji Day: RNIB announce a new project aiming to make emojis more accessible

Post date: 26 July 2019 

Emojis may be considered the "universal online language", but due to their complex detail and user interface, there are millions of people who are unable to use them. On World Emoji Day, on 17 July, RNIB and creative agency, We Are Social, announced a partnership that aims to make emojis more accessible for blind and partially sighted people.

Image of a person's hands holding and using a smartphone

The project kicked off with RNIB and We Are Social coming together for a one-day workshop. The key issues for partially sighted people and blind people that the group identified were:

  • Users struggle to differentiate emojis due to the level of detail - such as shading, colour and contrast, as well as the subtle differences in the facial expressions.
  • People have difficulty identifying emojis when three or more are used in a row in a social post or message.
  • The user experience of selecting an emoji (even with the help of a text reader) makes it difficult to sort through and select a desired emoji, as the emojis are uncategorised and grouped close together.

This led to the development of eight prototype redesigns, selected from the top 10 most-used emojis from 2018. The new designs, which are currently undergoing further testing, focus on aspects such as a more prominent eye shape and more distinct outline.   

The new emojis will be developed further with a view to evolving and improving the end designs based on user feedback. The first set of emojis will initially be made available to users as a sticker pack, once user testing has been completed.  

Alistair Campbell, the Executive Creative Director at We Are Social, said “Emojis have become the world’s favourite language, but for a significant minority they are another way that they’re excluded from everyday life. 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.

It’s been a real journey of discovery to see how complex design can act as a barrier for visually impaired people, and to start to make the first step in creating a more universally inclusive set of emojis for everyone. We hope that in working closely with RNIB, we’ll be able to bring the fun world of emojis to a whole new audience and, in the long-run, would love to see more accessible emojis adopted as standard by Unicode.”

Martin Wingfield, the Head of Brand at RNIB, added “Emojis are a universal language that are enjoyed by many but are often designed and used in a way that means that they are not accessible for blind and partially sighted people.

Emoji users can make them more inclusive and easier to understand for people 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.”

You can track the progress of this ongoing project here.