Hearing Faces: Reading Emojis While Blind

A few months ago, I upgraded the screen reader on my PC. I now have access to the full landscape of emojis that everyone seems to be using these days, in texts, emails, and on social media. Someone has apparently written a library of descriptions to accompany each emoji, which are programmed into the dictionaries for the screen readers I use on my PC and my iPhone.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate having full access to these symbols. But it’s interesting to consider how my experience, listening to emoji descriptions being read aloud, must be so different from how they appear to a sighted reader. Especially since I’ve never seen a face in my life.

So, I have a few questions about these emoji things. (Note: I don’t really expect answers to these questions. I’m mainly posing them for humorous purposes, though it might give you an insight into how a totally-blind-from-birth person processes these things). Here are my questions:

*There’s one called “face with tears of joy.” I’ve heard it used in both happy and sad contexts. So is this a happy face or a sad face? And, how does it differ from “crying face” or “loudly crying face?”

*I hear lots of smiling faces. Some of them have smiling eyes. How do eyes smile?

*People use red hearts, blue hearts, purple hearts, growing hearts, beating hearts, and sparkling hearts. Which heart is the best one?

*What’s a “thinking face” exactly? How about a “persevering face?”

*There’s a face without mouth emoji. What’s up with that one? Do I even want to ask?

*Why do some people use the same emoji over and over? When my phone says “face with open mouth vomiting” eight times in a row, is that like eight times as gross as just the one? And, who’s going to clean up all that vomit?

4 thoughts on “Hearing Faces: Reading Emojis While Blind

  1. I have these questions too! There’s one called “disappointed but relieved face.” What does that even mean?

  2. Haha OK I love this post, thank you – and it made me think, too, because emoji conveyance is one of those things that now feels inherent or obvious to me, as a seeing person, but, like… of COURSE it seems silly or strange or convoluted to a blind person.

    In particular, I had a hard time imagining which emoji “persevering face” might even be, so I Googled it… & it turns out this is one of my most commonly used face emojis, & this is not EVER what I mean when I use it. It’s got closed, squished-up eyes, a light frowny face, & alarmed-looking eyebrows, so to me it looks like an “Oh, gosh, what a day” face. I’ll use it when I’m telling a story about a time I was embarrassed, or when something is a bummer, or when I’m just feeling kind of down and out. I guess those are the times when I SHOULD be persevering, huh? But… yeah, that description alone feels incredible unhelpful. Ha!

    But, but! If this is helpful to know, the “thinking face” emoji actually has a tiny hand on its chin, which is a common representative of the act of thinking, as displayed in the famous Rodin sculpture “The Thinker” – so this little emoji guy has a tiny emoji hand on his chins as he looks into the distance, as if pondering the meaning of life. Or just, like, what pizza to order next.

    Anyway! Thanks for this post.

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