If you text, tweet, Facebook, or use any other social network, chances are you've encountered, if not used, emojis. As many iOS users know, emojis are available by enabling this keyboard in Settings<General<Keyboard, and then toggling between your normal keyboard and the emoji keyboard in virtually any textfield. If you use emojis, you know that they are accessible with VoiceOver. What I am going to show you is not a work around for an accessibility issue, but a different way of entering emojis. We will do this by using the iOS feature shortcuts.
Why, you ask, would I want to do this if the regular process is already accessible? Like many aspects of technology, one thing can have many uses, but here are the two main reasons that count for me: First, fitting your favorite emojis to shortcuts that can be activated by a standard keyboard allows quick use of emojis regardless of whether your using a hardware or software keyboard. Second, I have congenital blindness and I'm living in a sighted world. There's no rule that says I or any other social networker with a visual impairment must use emojis, but emojis seem to be becoming part of mainstream grammar on social networks. I find myself in a position where I want to use emojis, but am wired to express myself in words with a standard keyboard. If you need a third reason, emojis are just awesome. With all of this in mind, let's get to the actual process.
In order to use this method, you must have the emojis keyboard enabled. For the sake of getting to the point, I'm going to work under the assumption that you have already done this. There is a step by step guide on this site, and perhaps someone will be kind enough to post its link in the comments section. For illustration purposes, I'll be walking you through the process of setting the expression "ext" to produce the emoji VoiceOver calls, "Extraterrestrial Alien." When you make your own shortcuts, you can pick whatever emoji you wish; the process will remain the same.
1. Open the settings app, and go to General<Keyboard<Shortcuts. The back button is in the top left of the screen, the title heading in the center, and the add button in the top right. The rest of the screen contains a searchfield, and a list of all the shortcuts programmed into your device. Normally, this feature is used for phrases like "On my way," "Not much, you?" and the #X, a big campaign here in the U.S. Following the list, in the bottom right of the screen is the edit button, just incase there's a phrase you'd really like to get out of your vocabulary.
2. Activate the add button. You'll land on a screen that has two textfields, "Phrase" and "shortcut", and the save button in the top right.
3. We want to type the alien emoji in the phrase box, so with the phrase field ready for input, toggle to the emoji keyboard. The button to do this is slightly left of the dictate button. Double-tap to activate it.
4. The keyboard is now a screen of emojis. At this point, locate the emoji you want, the alien in this case, and type it. Since I often use the alien, it was in my frequently used category and easy to find.
5. Locate and activate the shortcut field. In the field, type "ext," or whatever shortcut is easiest for you to remember.
6. Activate the save button. Your new shortcut should appear in the list.
7. Navigate to any textfield, and type "ext.". You'll hear the autocorrect bubble. Insert a space, and the emoji is in the field. You can double check this by reading the field with VoiceOver.
8. Repeat the process until you have all of the emojis you want at your disposal.
Keep in mind that I used an iPhone6+ to do this. If you're using an iPad, the screen layout may differ slightly. Also, all shortcuts need at least two letters in their expression. With that, happy emoji-ing!!!