Accessible Emoji/Emoticon Labels for visually-impaired users of the message boards?

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In a reply in the "Old Smileys Are Back" thread on the IMDb Information board, "Purk" mentioned an accessibility issue experienced by visually-impaired users who use "screen-reader" software (which uses speech synthesis to speak the text and describe the contents of a page):

The apparent problem is that most screen-reader software may not speak the names of emoji or emoticons where they appear in posted messages.

(The same is true of the emoji/emoticon "menu". But I assume that it might be more difficult to provide screen-reader accessibility for the "menu" in its current design. That could be a matter for future discussion. For now, I'll only ask IMDb to consider providing screen-reader accessibility for emoji/emoticons in the content of posted messages.)


Here's one suggestion for a simple experimental partial workaround (not a complete solution):

Could IMDb set the "aria-label" attribute to the name of the emoticon or emoji (in exactly the same way that IMDb currently sets the "title" attribute) on a containing HTML span element?

I've just tried a quick test. I think the suggested use of the "aria-label" attribute might allow an emoticon or emoji's label to be spoken by the current version of the free "NVDA" screen-reader for Windows (http://nvaccess.org).

Unfortunately, that simple workaround currently might not work with some other screen-readers, such as the other one I briefly tested in Windows, "JAWS".


Some other known workarounds are unfortunately not so simple.
One controversial approach would involve creating additional elements containing label text intended for screen-readers, and using CSS trickery to conceal those elements visually (e.g., variations of the "off-screen" technique or the "clip" technique). This might have a chance to work with various screen-readers. Unfortunately, such methods can be cumbersome, requiring careful implementation and thorough testing to reduce risks of browser-dependent issues etc....

I'm not an expert on accessibility techniques, and I'm not up on the latest discussions about them. There may be other possible solutions that I don't know about.
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Posted 6 years ago

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Murray Chapman, Employee

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I've just committed a fix so that custom (PUA) emoji have an "aria-label" tag; should be online in a day or two.  Based on my research this is the correct way to help out screen readers.  I've seen a few reports that it should work in JAWS: http://www.pauljadam.com/demos/title-aria-label.html
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Thanks.
After the change goes live, I'll try it out with the two screen-readers
that I have (NVDA and a free-trial demo copy of Jaws 15).

Question:
You say this change only applies the aria-label attribute to "PUA" emoji (which IMDb now uses for the classic smilies)?  After evaluating the effectiveness of this change, might IMDb consider applying the same attribute to all of the other emoji too?
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My testing has been limited due to some troublesome incompatibilities with the screen readers and browsers that I used.

Ideally, setting an attribute such as "aria-label" should be sufficient to enable screen readers to speak the names of the emoticons or emoji. But unfortunately the current state of browser accessibility technology leaves a lot to be desired, and such simple solutions don't always work the way we wish they would.   :-/

Anyway, thanks for looking into this.
(Edited)

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