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The Holidays, Sensory Overload and Emojis

Simply put, sensory overload means "too much information." 

According to WebMD "Sensory overload is when your five senses — sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste — take in more information than your brain can process. When your brain is overwhelmed by this input, it enters fight, flight, or freeze mode in response to what feels like a crisis, making you feel unsafe or even panicky."

WebMD goes on to explain that "Sensory overload and anxiety are mental health conditions that are deeply related to one another. When a person feels anxious or already overwhelmed, they may be more prone to experiencing sensory overload in certain situations. Likewise, experiencing sensory overload can make you feel a sense of anxiety."

Sensory overload is certainly a concern during the holidays…the lights, the sounds - bells, carolers, traffic - the smells. But what about the emojis? That’s right, emojis.

If you read Emojis and Accessibility (DubBlog, 12/01/2021) you know that  "Just like a screen reader reads ALT text to describe an image, so does it read the Unicode string, the description, which is the "ALT text" for emojis."

In other words, if you have a friend that uses a screen reader and you text (or Tweet) them a holiday message that looks like this:


party pooper emoji - Apple operating system   Christmas tree emoji - Apple operating system and a money-mouth face emoji - Apple operating system  New Year! hugging face emoji - Apple operating system   face throwing a kiss emoji - Apple operating system


this is what they will hear - 

"party popper, Christmas tree and a money-mouth face new year! smiling face with open hands, face blowing kiss."

If you are not using a screen reader to read this article, do me a favor. Say "party popper, Christmas tree and a money-mouth face new year! smiling face with open hands, face blowing kiss" out loud with your eyes closed. Can you discern what the message really is? Too many emojis and using emojis in place of words can be extremely overwhelming for folks that have to listen to the descriptions and try to decipher what the sender is trying to tell them.

Beth Finke , Interactive Community Coordinator for Easterseals, provides us with a few dos and don’ts when it comes to using emojis this holiday season:


  • Don’t repeat an emoji over and over;
  • Don’t place emojis throughout a message;
  • Don’t put a call to action after the emoji.


  • Do use one or two emojis if you like, most blind people get a kick out of the descriptions;
  • Do put any important information before the emojis so we’ll be more likely to hear them;
  • Do limit yourself to no more than three emojis per message.

So, spread some joy and holiday cheer and do it with accessibility in mind!


Maggie Vaughan, CPACC
Content Marketing Practitioner