Texting Etiquette for Low Vision


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 is visually impaired.  I thought it was really awesome that so many people were learning from this post, and decided to create a texting etiquette guide for messaging people with blindness or low vision.

“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 (read my post on Android accessibility here) as well as third party apps (read my post on making Android accessible with third party apps here).  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.

Case sensitivity

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.

Abbreviations

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.

Punctuation

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.”

Emoji

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.

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 to- for example, my friend sent me a message saying “here’s a link to the restaurant we’re going to” and then added the link in a shortened form.

Picture messaging

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- 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.”

Word choice

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.  Read more about my views on these terms here.

Misspellings

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.

Long messages

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.

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.

 

My View on “See”


One time, I managed to lose my bottle of shampoo in the bathroom I shared with my suitemate. I called out to them, asking if they had seen my bottle of shampoo recently. Their response to my question came as a bit of a surprise:

“Don’t use the word see, that’s offensive to the blind and visually impaired!”

I was very surprised they had said that. I’d never heard of the term being offensive before, and I would never be offended if someone used the term towards me. Naturally, I decided to educate them:

“I speak for the blind and visually impaired, we don’t view that word as offensive. Can you help me look for the bottle?”

To which the person then replied:

“Hey, the words view and look are offensive too!”

I just decided to put up this poster in the bathroom and resume my search later.

Lost: Have you seen me? Name- Garnier 2 in 1. Last seen- in the shower. Color- green. If found, just put that thing back where it came from or so help me

A common misconception from sighted people is that using a term like see, watch, view, or look is offensive to someone with blindness or low vision. The truth is, we use those terms ourselves, very often. My friend with low vision will ask if I “saw” the new assignments for class, a totally blind person will say they “watched” a video, I “view” materials online, and those of us with low vision or blindness frequently need help “looking” for things. These words are not exclusive to the sighted community, and frequently do not refer to the literal appearance of something, or the act of seeing them.

The terms blindness, blind, and low vision are also not offensive- these are actually diagnostic terms used by doctors. The term visually impaired is not offensive either. Some people use low vision and blindness interchangeably, as many “blind” people still have at least some degree of sight. Typically, I use low vision to describe my own eyesight, and identify myself as visually impaired or as having low vision. While some disability communities insist on using person first language instead of identity first language (i.e the student with a vision impairment as opposed to the visually impaired student), people in the low vision community use both.

Of course, these words can be used in a negative context, such as when people get annoyed when you can’t see something. There are also plenty of mean names that people with blindness or low vision get called. However, a lot of the words by themselves are not offensive. There are some people that don’t mind these mean names though- my blog title comes from a slang term in America for people who wear glasses. They are referred to as having “four eyes”, and I stylized my name as Veroniiiica since I am Veronica with four eyes/Is.

Everyone has unique responses to certain words, so if you are ever doubtful, ask the person you are talking to if they find the term offensive. But don’t refrain from using see, watch, view, or look, just because the person you are talking to doesn’t have good eyesight. For more information on etiquette for talking to someone with low vision or blindness, read my post here.

How To Approach Someone with Low Vision


While walking back from class one foggy night, someone recognized me and wanted to get my attention. In order to do this, they put their hand on my shoulder while standing behind me and started mumbling. Naturally, I screamed in their face and hit them, because I had no idea who they were, something they later got very offended over because they insisted I should have been able to see them. Following that experience, I have developed this guide on how to approach someone with low vision or blindness without terrifying them. I’ve written this post for people who may have a new friend with low vision or are not familiar with low vision in general.

State your name and where you are

When people approach me, they often say “hi Veronica, this is insert name here, I’m on your left.” That way, I know who it is and to turn and face them. For close friends or people who I am walking out to meet, they often just say what direction they are in and how far away they are- for example, when walking out to meet my friend who is right outside my door, she would say “three feet to the left!”

Use verbal cues

Many new friends have been upset that I didn’t notice them waving to me when I walked by. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise, but I couldn’t see them. Verbal cues are much more effective, as it lets someone know to look for you. Never use flashing lights to alert the person to your presence, as sensitivity to flashing lights is very common for people with low vision.

Do not touch

Especially if they are a new friend, do not touch or attempt to interfere with a person’s movement or blindness cane. Grabbing them from behind is another bad idea, as they barely have eyes on the front of their head, let alone eyes on the back of their head. Try to keep yourself in their line of sight.

When delivering something

If you have to deliver an item to a person with low vision, have them meet you at a predetermined area- I usually meet them at the Starbucks which is in close proximity to my apartment. Don’t have them approach a car, as they may fear getting hit or have difficulty navigating a parking lot or busy street. Clearly identify your name and your affiliation, and say their name as well so that they know you are talking to them. Walk over to them as opposed to having them walk over to you. Also, alert them when you are handing them something, because otherwise the item might fall on the ground.

If they are using a guide

Talk to the person with low vision, not their guide, and make eye contact. The guide may describe you to the person with low vision, or act defensive if they do not recognize you. Again, identifying yourself is key. If their guide is not human (for example, a guide dog), do not attempt to distract the guide dog or ask to pet it. To learn more about how to be a human guide, click here.

All of this information may seem overwhelming at first, but it can be summarized with this sentence- no one likes a sneak attack. Also, once you have the person’s attention, there is no need to continue talking loudly, as they can probably hear you just fine.