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.
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).
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:
Text formatting/structures that do not have any impact on readability include:
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:
Here’s how those messages would look when typed:
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.
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.
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.
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:
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated November 2023; original post published August 2017.
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