Best Practices for Screen Reader Accessibility on Twitter

Please note: this is directed at an audience fluent in English and with at least some understanding of Twitter culture.

1. ASCII Art

Remember all those cool ASCII art images which are sprawled over Twitter? The rabbits holding signs, the cups of tea, the swords and shields, the scantron tests, the summoning circles… the list goes on and on.

These wreck havoc with screen readers. The words are spread out amongst a series of underscores, slashes, and emojis, leaving the listener very confused. Lindsay explores this with a video in her section ‘Communicate with words, not symbols making a picture’ on her blog post about accessible twitter usage, highlighting these issues.

Still want to tweet ASCII art on Twitter? You can! Here’s how to make sure your ASCII art is accessible for screen-readers.

  • Take a screenshot of what you intend to tweet
  • Upload the screenshot as an image
  • Add alt text or an image description of what the image shows
  • Tweet the image!

2. Fancy Fonts

Fancy fonts, like the ones accessed through this text generating website, were all the rage on Twitter over the last few months. These fancy fonts are actually made up of unique characters, many of whom aren’t as easy to say as a single letter of the English alphabet.

This video of screen reader software reading out a tweet, by Kent C Dodds, shows exactly how an innocent sentence using these fancy fonts sounds when read aloud by a screen reader.

Some are mathematical symbols which have been manipulated to appear like fancy typefaces, some are different types of scripts, and some I’m not even sure about.

They’re certainly not very readable for screen reader users. And, looking at a broader picture, they can cause issues for anyone who struggled with reading and comprehension.

So, as a definitive rule, don’t use these fonts on Twitter. At least, not unless you’re actually writing a mathematical formula in your Tweets!

3. Usernames

Surprise, surprise! Screen readers will also read out usernames each time they appear.

This means every emoji, fancy font letter, and creative ways to tell people where you’re travelling is up for being read out. See Fancy Fonts and Emphasising With Emojis for how problematic this can become!

And this isn’t read just once. These things are read out for every single Tweet.

Changing your name to be a clever play on words, a spooky nickname for Halloween, or a creative pun on current events, means that users need to rely on your Profile Picture to identify and place you. For someone who is blind or vision impaired, this makes your Tweets as indistinguishable as the next random stranger. This may also cause issues for folks struggling with face-blindness, or those with cognitive difficulties around memory or reading.

So, be considerate of screen reader users and other folks who find it difficult to follow your excessive name changes, and leave your username as your name.

4. Hashtags

Ah, yes. The humble hashtag. The literal trend-setter, allowing you to connect with other folks across the globe simply through a combination of letters after a hash sign.

But, did you ever stop to think how these are heard by folks using screen readers? The words become mashed together and read at a rapid pace, as you can hear on these videos of screen reader software reading out hashtags by Adrian Roselli.

Capitalising the first letter of each word in a hashtag with multiple words allows each word to be read out individually. As a bonus, this also makes it a lot more legible for sighted readers, too!

But, what about when an acronym or initialism is used in a hashtag? Where should the capitalisation go then?

In either case, the best practice is to capitalise the first letter, and leave the rest as lower case. For example:

  • #ASCIIArt becomes #AsciiArt
  • #GDC becomes #Gdc
  • #TTRPGAccessibility can be left as #TTRPGAccessibility


5. Emphasising with Emojis

We. All. Like. To. Emphasise. Points. Which. We. Feel. Are. Important.

However, when we do this by using the Clap emoji, or any other emoji, these get read out after every word, too.

On Twitter using NVDA software, the Clap emoji is read out as ‘emoji clapping hands sign’. So, doing the first sentence of this section using Clap emojis would read like this:

We emoji clapping hands sign all emoji clapping hands sign like emoji clapping hands sign to emoji clapping hands sign emphasise emoji clapping hands sign points emoji clapping hands sign which emoji clapping hands sign we emoji clapping hands sign feel emoji clapping hands sign are emoji clapping hands sign important.

Wowza, that’s a lot of extra words!

If you still want to emphasise your statement, great! Let’s start by using periods / full stops instead, like the first example has.

These are read out with a pause after each word.

6. Alt text and image descriptions

Image descriptions or alt text are descriptions added to an image, which are then read by screen reader software. Check out Queerly Represent Me’s accessible images guide for a further understanding of how to appropriately do alt text and image descriptions.

To turn on this feature on Android:

  • Tap your profile picture (top left hand side)
  • Tap ‘Settings and privacy’
  • Tap ‘Accessibility’ under the ‘General’ heading
  • Check the checkbox next to ‘Compose image descriptions’

To turn on this feature on iOS:

  • Tap your profile picture (top left hand side)
  • Tap ‘Settings and privacy’
  • Tap ‘Accessibility’ under the ‘General’ heading
  • Check the checkbox next to ‘Compose image descriptions’

To turn on this feature on web:

  • Click on ‘Home’
  • Click on your profile picture (top right hand side)
  • Click on ‘Settings and privacy’
  • Select ‘Accessibility’ on the left hand side menu
  • Check the checkbox next to ‘Compose image descriptions’

7. Alt text / descriptions on GIFs

Unfortunately, Twitter does not support GIF descriptions as well as it does image descriptions. There are some ways to work around this, however.

  • Post a description of the GIF in the same Tweet as the GIF.
  • Post a description of the GIF in a reply Tweet immediately below the GIF.
  • Simply describe what the GIF would look like in words, and avoid posting it altogether.

Keep in mind, GIFs have their own accessibility concerns outside of screen reader access. GIFs with certain types and frequencies of flashing items can be a trigger for seizures, and GIFs with lots of stimulation through flashing and movement can lead to sensory overload for autistic folks or those with sensory processing issues.

Taking these into account, be mindful of your GIF usage.