One of my friends found a post online that was telling people not to include several emojis in the middle of a text message if the recipient has blindness or vision impairment. It’s great to see so many people spreading awareness about how to text people with vision loss, because so many people think that vision impairment prevents people from texting. Considering I sent over 3,000 text messages last month, that definitely is not the case!
Today, I will be sharing my guide for texting etiquette for low vision, written for people of all sight levels. This includes information for sighted people sending texts as well as how people with vision impairments can send texts.
“Wait, blind people can text?”
Yes, people with blindness or low vision are capable of reading and writing text messages. This is made possible through accessibility settings in the phone as well as third party apps. Typically, users speak their reply into a speech-to-text software or have a large print keyboard. Unless someone explicitly says they cannot read or write text messages, it’s okay to send a text.
- How To Make Keyboards Easier To See
- Low Vision Accessibility Settings For Android Phones
- How To Make iPad Accessible for Low Vision
No need to write in all capital letters so the recipient can read the message clearly. This will not affect the display size of the font. Rather, it will seem like the recipient is being yelled at. Writing in all lowercase letters is okay, though proper grammar is always nice.
When composing a reply, the speech-to-text software may ignore capitalization and send messages in all lowercase letters. Alternatively, dictation may randomly capitalize letters or space out words in an acronym that should be capitalized. Whenever I would sent a text talking about IT, my phone would write it as “i t,” which is a lowercase I and a lowercase T with a space between them.
Try not to use a lot of abbreviations when typing, as some screen reading technology may pronounce the abbreviations as a word- for example L-O-L is pronounced similar to the first syllable in “lollipop” or the first syllable in “lullaby.” Don’t add additional letters to abbreviations either- it took my phone screen reader nearly thirty seconds to read “lol” with several “ol”s added at the end.
Many people with vision impairments use dictation to type, and abbreviations or acronyms may be spelled out phonetically. For example, when my friend with no usable vision says LOL, their phone interprets it as “Ello ell.” I recommend adding common abbreviations or acronyms to the phone dictionary so that they can be typed correctly.
Most screen readers do not read normal punctuation, with the exception of quotation marks. If large amounts of punctuation are added, such as adding six exclamation points, the screen reader may read the word exclamation point six times. Ellipses are usually read as “dot dot dot” or simply as “ellipses.”
To add punctuation to a text message using dictation, users have to explicitly state it. Here are some examples:
- “I have no idea where my backpack went period”
- “Why are you asking me about my backpack question mark”
- “The last time I saw it was in my room comma or maybe it was in my closet”
- “Oh shoot exclamation point I left my backpack in my English class exclamation point”
Here’s how those messages would look when typed:
- I have no idea where my backpack went.
- Why are you asking me about my backpack?
- The last time I saw it was in my room, or maybe it was in my closet
- Oh shoot! I left my backpack in my English class!
The maximum amount of emoji I can handle in a text message is about three, though I can tolerate more if they are at the end of a text message. It’s a bit annoying when someone puts twenty emoji in the middle of a text message, as the phone will read each individual emoji description, and the recipient may lose interest in continuing to read the text if they have to listen to the word “birthday cake” a dozen times. Users with low vision may also have difficulty distinguishing emoji- I frequently confuse the different hand emojis and facial expressions. Avoid conveying critical information with emoji.
To add emoji to a text message using dictation, say the name of the emoji followed by the word emoji. For example, if I wanted to send a yellow heart to my friend, I would say “yellow heart emoji.”
Sending web links
When sending a web link, use the shortest possible link available. Many websites have link shorteners built in for social media services. While not all screen readers do this, some will read out entire links. Make sure to note what the link is for- for example, my friend sent me a message saying “here’s a link to the restaurant we’re going to” along with said link.
iOS Shortcuts has a function that allows users to preview links before they open them to ensure that they are authentic. This is especially helpful for VoiceOver users.
Understandably, people with blindness and low vision may not be able to distinguish pictures very well. While there are lots of apps that use automatic alt text (which describes the picture), alt text is not always completely correct. For example, automatic alt text described a picture of my brother outside as being a picture of a car. While pictures can be enlarged, it helps to include a description of the image along with the message, such as “this is your brother sitting outside.”
- How To Write Alt Text and Image Descriptions for the Visually Impaired
- How To Write Alt Text For Memes
Don’t worry about using words like see, walk, read, view, watch, or look, as these are not considered offensive terms. In addition, the terms vision impairment, visually impaired, blind, and low vision aren’t considered offensive either.
Typically, it is easy to infer what a word is in a message, even if it is misspelled. Avoid adding extra letters to the end of words for emphasis, as it may become difficult to decipher the word. Some screen readers spell out unfamiliar words, or if several letters are added to a normal word.
People who are using dicatiton or large print keyboards are likely to make spelling mistakes. I recommend proofreading a text with the screen reader before sending it to make sure that all information is conveyed correctly.
If a phone sends long messages in several parts, instead of one large message, have the messages numbered so they can be read in order. These may take longer to read, since the user has to figure out the order of all of the messages.
Texting etiquette with low vision is a very important skill to have. This may seem like a lot of information, but it’s really simple- write text messages with proper grammar and spelling, and everything will be fine.