When one of my friends started texting me for the first time, they sent me several texts written in all capital letters. When I asked if they knew their caps lock was on, they said they were texting this way because they wanted to make sure their texts were displayed in large print, and that they would be easier to read with capital letters.
While I’m sure there are people who find it easier to read texts that are written in all caps, this isn’t the case for the majority of blind or low vision users, and this conversation made me realize that others may not be familiar with how to text with vision loss, or erroneously believe that blind or low vision users can’t send texts at all. Here are my tips for texting with low vision and sending texts with accessibility in mind.
How do you read texts with low vision?
I have large print enabled on my phone, so all of my text messages are displayed in the same font size and style as other text content. If I need to magnify a text, I can use the pinch-to-zoom feature that is built into the Android messaging app, or use Select-to-speak or Read Aloud tools to have a message read out loud with text-to-speech. While there are things people can do to make it easier for me to read texts, I can generally read anything that is sent to me without any special accommodations.
Blind users or people who otherwise are unable to read print use screen reading tools such as TalkBack or VoiceOver to have texts and other application controls read out loud and can either type or use dictation to compose messages. Braille input and wireless Braille display options are another option for writing and reading texts and are fantastic for people who frequently use Braille or that are deafblind (dual vision and hearing loss).
- Low Vision Accessibility Settings For Android Phones
- Enabling Temporary Accessibility Settings For iPad
- Make Any Android Smartphone Accessible For $8
- Accessibility Settings I’m Using In iPad OS and iOS 13
How text formatting can affect readability
While I can read the majority of texts I receive, there are some message formatting styles or ways of writing out messages that can make it more difficult for me to read something. Some examples include:
- Texts with lots of spaces between letters (this reads each letter aloud separately for screen reader users)
- Several punctuation marks in a row or punctuation randomly inserted into words
- ASCII drawings that may not be formatted correctly with a larger print size
- Excessive emoji- five cake emoji would be read as “cake cake cake cake cake”
- Emoji inserted into the middle of words
- Special characters or artistic fonts that may be hard to identify
- Animations added to texts when they are opened, i.e having a confetti effect over a message bubble, can make it difficult to read the message inside
Text formatting/structures that do not have any impact on readability include:
- Sending a text in all caps or all lowercase letters
- Writing a text with alternative input such as Braille or dictation
- Sending a text from a computer
- Use of abbreviations or emotions such as lol or 🙂
- How To Make ASCII/Emoji Memes Accessible For Visual Impairment
- Digital Accessibility and Chronic Pain
- My Eight Favorite Free Fonts For Print Disabilities
Sending texts with dictation
Several of my friends prefer to use dictation to send messages over typing on an onscreen or physical keyboard. Dictation and speech-to-text software accuracy has continued to improve over the years and will automatically capitalize words, but users may want to proofread messages before sending to ensure that their text was written correctly.
To add punctuation to a text message using dictation, users have to explicitly state it. Here are some examples of how that would look:
- “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!
- Learning To Use Dictation As Assistive Technology With Low Vision
- How To Make Keyboards Easier To See
- Choosing A Backpack With Low Vision
A note on emoji
Screen readers and text-to-speech tools will read the names of emoji out loud, but users with low vision who don’t use these tools may have difficulty identifying emoji since the images often have intricate details or a lot of emoji look similar to each other. While emoji can be displayed at the same font size as regular text, one technique I use to make it easier to identify certain emoji is to use two different skin tone options for thumbs up/thumbs down, or to insert emoji with dictation by saying phrases such as “brain emoji.” I have an entire post on emoji linked below.
Sending picture/MMS messages
At this time, users cannot add alt text to pictures or other MMS content before sending it. While there are several options for getting descriptions of images on a smartphone, I recommend adding a short image description to the picture so the recipient can get information about what is in the picture, or search for it in their texts later.
- How To Write Alt Text and Image Descriptions for the Visually Impaired
- How To Access Images Without Alt Text
What about sending gifs?
Depending on the website the gif is hosted on, some gifs do have alt text and provide information about visual content, though users cannot add alt text themselves. Sometimes I will ask my friends to send a description of the gif they just sent me, while other times I can infer what’s going on based on the link title. However, since I am sensitive to strobe and flashing lights, I ask my friends to refrain from sending me gifs with these effects and turn off auto-play.
Images/videos look blurry when sent over text
MMS messages, including picture and video, are often sent at a lower image quality compared to media that is sent through other mediums. Some of my favorite tips for improving image/video quality for messages include:
- For iOS devices, open the Messages menu in the Settings app and make sure low quality image mode is turned off
- Send larger files as a view-only link through apps such as iCloud, Google Photos, or Microsoft OneDrive- this allows the recipient to download the content in full resolution
- If the devices are in close proximity to each other, use AirDrop, Bluetooth, or NFC to send content wirelessly
- Instead of using text messaging, send content through email or a third party app such as WhatsApp or Messenger.
Other tips for texting with low vision
- Messages containing contact cards or location coordinates are compatible with assistive technology tools
- Enabling link previews can make it easier to open links sent over text
- To improve inbox organization, users can pin contacts/conversation threads to the top of their inbox for quick access.