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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 𝘁𝗲𝘅𝘁 𝘀𝘁𝗿𝗶𝗻𝗴

𝐻𝑒𝑙𝑙𝑜 𝑡𝑒𝑥𝑡 𝑠𝑡𝑟𝑖𝑛𝑔

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    This doesn't appear to be about UX. Also, try it and see. – Steve Jones May 15 '18 at 19:39
  • @SteveJones I think accessibility has a lot to do with UX. – maxathousand May 22 '18 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. – Steve Jones May 23 '18 at 8:46
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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 ‹𝑜› \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 “mathematical 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.

  • You're right. Example added to illustrate my point. – TRiG Aug 23 at 21:00
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    I actually came across that last week, and thought to myself that I should edit it into this post, but I hadn't got around to it till you poked me, so thanks for that. – TRiG Aug 23 at 21:56
  • Oh that tweet is brutal! – curiousdannii Aug 24 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 May 17 '18 at 12:45
  • The OP did not say anything about math characters. – slugolicious May 18 '18 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 May 18 '18 at 14:06
  • exactly, you proved my point. they were asking about characters in general. nothing about math symbols. do a simple search on the page and you won't see "math" anywhere except in your posting. – slugolicious May 19 '18 at 15:03
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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. – slugolicious May 21 '18 at 15:06
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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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