“Smiling face with squinty eyes.”
That’s what my talking iPhone called out after the Cardinals beat the Cubs in the first NL playoff game a few weeks ago. The text message came from Tom, a St. Louis fan who’s a friend from Hackney’s. He’s been known to say some goofy things after imbibing a few too many Anheuser-Busch products, but “smiley face with squinty eyes?” It just didn’t sound like Tom.
And that’s when the lightbulb went on over my head. He’d sent me one of those pictures you can text to show how you feel.
Wait. I need to look up how to spell it.
Ah, yes. Here it is. It’s called an “emoji.”
Two years ago I published a post here about how some people who are blind access a program called VoiceOver to use an iPhone — VoiceOver parrots every letter we type into a text, but it wasn’t until I upgraded to IOS 9 last month that I came face-to-face with an emoji.
A key next to the space bar on the iPhone keypad lets users choose from lists and lisps and lists of emojis to use with texts. VoiceOver reads the images out loud for those of us who can’t see them, and to show you what I mean, here’s a sampling of what I hear when choosing from the list of “Smileys and other people” emojis:
- ”Smiling face with sunglasses”
- “Unamused face”
- “Winking face with stuck-out tongue”
- “Sleeping face”
- ”Nerdy face with thick horn-rimmed glasses and buck teeth”
- ”Neutral face”
- ”Excited face with money symbols for eyes and stuck-out tongue”
- “Expressionless face”
- “Smiling face licking lips”
- “Slightly smiling face”
- ”Smirking face”
- “ Face with rolling eyes”
- ”Face with no mouth”
- “Flushed face”
- “Thinking face”
- “Angry face”
- “Pouting face”
- “Disappointed face”
- ”Grinning face with clenched teeth”
Wait. Can a person clench their teeth and smile at the same time?
I guess you can! But would I ever want to see a picture of that on a text message? Dunno.
After the powers that be added 150 new emojis to their operating systems last week, the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Ouch blog asked Damen Rose, a BBC reporter who is blind, to demonstrate what emojis sound like on his Smart Phone. I listened to the podcast and found myself agreeing with Damen when he lamented how the emoji craze is just one more example of how the technological world is becoming more and more visual. “We’ve sort of arrived at this glance culture, haven’t we, where we take in so many things at a glance on a screen,” he said. “We’re supposed to keep up with various events, understand different memes, get the references, et cetera, and it all happened soooo quickly and sooooooooo visually.”
I gotta admit, I do feel left behind sometimes. People doing quick smart phone checks for sports scores or news. Looking real quick at Facebook. Checking text messages at a glance. I just can’t keep up. Without being able to see, I’m not part of the “glance culture.”
But wait. Maybe there’s an “Eyebrows up!” emoji, and if there is, I need one right now. I mean, maybe I can’t just glance at a written description of an emoji, but isn’t it pretty incredible that technology companies have come this far with accessibility? That they actually found someone somewhere to write hundreds (thousands?) of emoji descriptions for people like me, who can’t see them?.
If there isn’t an “eyebrows up!” emoji yet, I nominate my nine-year-old great niece to be the one to describe “eyebrows up!” once it’s added — she’s already pretty good at describing emoticons. I’ll end the post here with the closing of an email message she sent to her old blind Great Aunt Betha recently:
“Love, FLOEY :);) (smiley and winky face) I<3U (that means “I love you.”)