Chances are if you’re tech savvy enough to have turned on your computer, found the web browser, and found this blog, then hopefully the term emoticon doesn’t drive you mad with confusion or phobia.
The following is an excerpt with only slight editing, from a recent conversation I had with Hugh Huddy, an avid technologist and screen reader user about the accessibility of emoticons.
“Here’s my take on Emoticons: …a screen reader will say “colon dash right bracket” for 🙂 so…the Emoticon is being verbalised…problem is…an individual is…only hearing the info spoken out and has never heard of characters being used in strings to create emoticons before or does know about them but has no knowledge of the visual design of the characters to imagine why the string is made up as it is.”
So what began this conversation was a personal realization of my own behavior, and that that many of us use emoticons unconsciously. I can easily be accused of throwing in an extra 🙂 a 😉 or in rare instances a 😦
I won’t get into the debate around how the use of emoticons is degenerative to our most holy literary and linguistic capacities as human beings. But this unconscious assumption that what we intend to communicate is in fact being understood by the often faceless, expressionless void of the interwebs is mirrored in many areas of accessibility, from the websites we program to the products we design and the services we deliver.
Though, the really interesting part of this conversation revolves around non-digital interactions.
“However…[if emoticons] aren’t immediately obvious to someone who is seeing them, this offsets the accessibility problem…I think in this particular case “received knowledge” is important and this is…communicated between people verbally. So if…people “hear” about Emoticons verbally, then this is…accessible to blind people.
I think this provides an interesting characterization (albeit kind of silly, I mean we’re talking about emoticons here) for exploring the interactions between our physical and digital worlds. No matter how invested we are in our online worlds, it invariably comes down to human interaction to make sense of something as simple as a smile 🙂