In the last few months, there has been an increase in the amount of ASCII memes and emoji memes on social media, and several people have been asking how to make these memes accessible for visual impairment so that people with vision loss or people that use assistive technology in order to access social media aren’t left out of the fun. As part of my post series on making social media accessible for visual impairment, today I will be sharing my tips for how to make ASCII and emoji memes accessible for visual impairment and how to write alt text and image descriptions for text-based memes.
What are ASCII memes/emoji memes?
ASCII memes and emoji memes are social media posts that use an arrangement of letters, numbers, symbols, or emoji to create an image or convey a certain aesthetic. Many of these images contain a message or reminder, or may contain references, jokes, or quotes from different sources. ASCII memes and emoji memes are commonly found on popular social media websites including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and more.
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Why are ASCII memes and emoji memes inaccessible?
ASCII memes and emoji memes can be difficult for people with visual impairments to read or understand, even if they do not use a screen reader. Some examples of reasons why ASCII memes and emoji memes are inaccessible include:
- Fancy text with lots of extra embellishments can be difficult to distinguish for people with low vision, and screen readers may not recognize the characters or text
- Screen readers read information one line at a time, from left to right. While having blank space is not an issue, adding random characters or randomly spacing out words can be hard to understand
- Large amounts of emoji can be difficult to distinguish and may be hard to focus on, and screen readers will read every single emoji that’s in a social media post or username
- Shapes or images created from text may be difficult to see or identify
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Take a screenshot and add alt text
One of my favorite ways I’ve seen to make ASCII memes and emoji memes accessible is to take a screenshot of the social media post and either post it in the replies or as its own tweet. Along with the picture users should add alt text that will be read by screen readers when they come across the image. I feel comfortable retweeting or sharing these images if alt text is included so that the images are accessible for assistive technology and the people that use it.
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Write an image description
Another option for describing an ASCII meme or emoji meme is to quote tweet the original post and add a text-based description. For example, if someone posted an ASCII picture of a rabbit, the appropriate way to write a description would be to say “Image description- a rabbit made out of different lines and punctuation marks.” If someone posted an emoji meme that had several fingers pointing at a text message, the description would be “Image description- several different fingers in different skin tones pointing at text that reads ‘caption your videos’ in the center.”
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If possible, avoid using unfamiliar characters in usernames and bios
As interesting as the decorative text and symbol combinations can be when added to usernames or bios, I recommend sticking to letters, numbers, and emoji when writing usernames and bios, especially for brands that may have visually impaired customers. Of course, it’s best not to overdo it on the emoji either, as every emoji is read individually- I once read a post from a popular brand I like that included seven shoe emoji, and my screen reader read the word shoe seven times, which was annoying.
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Make sure to credit original authors when creating accessible images
If someone is modifying an ASCII meme or emoji meme to be more accessible, make sure to credit the original author or user who created the meme or image, so it doesn’t look like the content is being stolen. An example of how to include credit in an image description would be to write “Image description- a tweet from @veron4ica that has the lowercase letter I written four times, with a pair of glasses covering the two center dots on the I’s.”
I love seeing the creative ways that people are spreading awareness of important issues or reminders through ASCII memes and emoji memes, and I’m glad that I’ve been able to find ways to help make these memes accessible to people with visual impairments and people who use assistive technology. I hope this post on how to make ASCII memes and emoji memes accessible is helpful for other content creators or users embracing accessible design!