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I have seen serval social media channels using Unicode to make part of their text bold or italicised on websites such as Twitter, where this sort of thing is usually not possible.

It crossed my mind that this could interfere with accessibility for screen reader users - especially since on Twitter, styled text seems to count for double the characters (e.g. "𝗛𝗲𝗹𝗹𝗼" counts as 10 characters).

Can screen readers read this sort of text as easily as regular text?

Examples:

𝗛𝗲𝗹𝗹𝗼 π˜π—²π˜…π˜ π˜€π˜π—Ώπ—Άπ—»π—΄

π»π‘’π‘™π‘™π‘œ 𝑑𝑒π‘₯𝑑 π‘ π‘‘π‘Ÿπ‘–π‘›π‘”

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    This doesn't appear to be about UX. Also, try it and see. Commented May 15, 2018 at 19:39
  • @SteveJones I think accessibility has a lot to do with UX. Commented May 22, 2018 at 21:55
  • @maxathousand Yes, of course, but the way this question was framed didn't seem to fit in with the site guidelines, IMHO, YMMV, etc. Commented May 23, 2018 at 8:46
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    Apropos of nothing, when you see a lot of users doing hacks like this… it means they want it as a feature. Better to make it available and accessible!
    – Izquierdo
    Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 12:06

4 Answers 4

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If you want bold, use bold. Real bold. Not mathematical symbols. Those characters are intended for use in mathematics only. They are not, semantically, text at all.

U+1D5DB ‹𝗛› \N{MATHEMATICAL SANS-SERIF BOLD CAPITAL H}
U+1D5F2 ‹𝗲› \N{MATHEMATICAL SANS-SERIF BOLD SMALL E}
U+1D5F9 ‹𝗹› \N{MATHEMATICAL SANS-SERIF BOLD SMALL L}
U+1D5FC ‹𝗼› \N{MATHEMATICAL SANS-SERIF BOLD SMALL O}

U+1D43B ‹𝐻› \N{MATHEMATICAL ITALIC CAPITAL H}
U+1D452 ‹𝑒› \N{MATHEMATICAL ITALIC SMALL E}
U+1D459 ‹𝑙› \N{MATHEMATICAL ITALIC SMALL L}
U+1D45C β€Ήπ‘œβ€Ί \N{MATHEMATICAL ITALIC SMALL O}

Assistive technologies such as screen readers do not interpret these characters as text, but as mathematical symbols, therefore these would be read aloud letter-by-letter as β€œmathematical bold capital H” or similar. For an example of what this sounds like in practice, see a Tweet from Kent C. Dodds which includes the audio produced by such a screen reader (VoiceOver) when faced with these characters.

The fact that 𝗛 counts as two characters is a separate issue, and is to do with the way that Twitter processes Unicode characters (all Unicode characters, be they text or not). As far as I can tell from the Twitter docs, it should count as one character now, as they count characters (not bytes) in Unicode NFC. However, maybe it was different when you asked the question.

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  • Oh that tweet is brutal! Commented Aug 24, 2019 at 17:21
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JAWS and NVDA (PC screen readers) allow you to enable format changes to be announced, but it's not on by default. I have not seen this option in voiceover (mac and ios).

But I wouldn't rely on the option being set. It's better to use semantic html (such as <h1> instead of <div style="big bold text">). If the bold or italic text implies a certain meaning, then that meaning should be conveyed to screen reader users.

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    I think you misunderstood the question. This is about using mathematical characters which are inherently bold, instead of using markup, in places where markup is not permitted, such as this comment. 𝗛𝗲𝗹𝗹𝗼
    – TRiG
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 12:45
  • The OP did not say anything about math characters. Commented May 18, 2018 at 13:27
  • Yes they did. OP is talking about places like Twitter, where the user does not have control of either HTML or styling. OP has seen brands using Unicode characters which have inherent bolding or italicisation to make their messages stand out (these are mathematical characters). OP asks whether this is accessible.
    – TRiG
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 14:06
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    irrelevant. the OP asked about bold characters, not math specifically. that's all i'm saying. you assumed math but the OP didn't say that. you're also assuming english, which also was not specified. i'm an accessibility and screen reader specialist, not a unicode specialist, and was answering from that perspective because of the tags. if you already looked at the 100k+ unicode characters and couldn't find a single bold character that was not math, then you get a gold star. Commented May 21, 2018 at 15:06
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    -1: OP said nothing about <div style="big bold text"> or anything like that. They specifically said "using Unicode" which you do not address at all.
    – Kevin
    Commented Aug 24, 2020 at 17:06
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If you are following a semantic HTML structure, you will not risk interrupting the screen reader. One more advantage for semantic HTML is that screen readers can read your code faster and you will not face compatibility issues (some exceptions apply). Your ranking will also increase as light weighted code (not nested) is preferred by search engines.

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On the website of Eleven Ways, a Belgian accessibility consultancy company, there is an update to the research of Deque about how screenreaders read punctuation and typographic symbols. The research is from March 2023.

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  • Welcome to User Experience! Your first name is listed on the contact us page, so I assume it's your website in the link? If so, you need to explicitly state so in your post. And while this link may answer the question, it is better to include the essential parts of the answer here and provide the link for reference. Link-only answers can become invalid if the linked page changes or disappears.
    – Glorfindel
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 7:09

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