Recently, I was talking to one of my friends who asked me how people with low vision can access social media applications. With so many visual apps out there, it’s easy for people with vision impairments to feel left out of the loop or think that they can’t access social media like their sighted friends. Fortunately, more and more companies are thinking about accessibility and finding ways to reach users who use assistive technology. Snapchat is one of these apps.
What is Snapchat?
Snapchat is a popular messaging and social media platform that is based on pictures. Users can take photos and videos and send them as disappearing messages, or add them to a story where they are displayed for friends to see for 24 hours. It’s commonly used amongst teenagers and young adults. The app requires users be 13 years old or older and to create a free account which is connected to either an email or phone number.
Snapchat is available on iOS and Android, though I use it on my iPad because of the larger screen. This app was tested on a 5th generation iPad with a 9.7 inch screen, running iOS 11 with accessibility settings enabled-read about my iPad settings here.
The app opens on the camera function, which is similar to any other camera- press the on screen button to take a picture, or hold it down to take a video. There are also options to add filters to photos by tapping on the screen, but use caution as some filters may contain flashing lights. Learn more about taking pictures for school here.
By swiping left, users can access their inbox and see messages from friends, which are disappearing pictures, videos, or text messages. By swiping right, users can access the story menu where they can watch short videos and see pictures from their friends, celebrities, and favorite brands.
Believe it or not, a visual app like Snapchat can still be fairly accessible to the visually impaired, especially when paired with accessibility settings. Read more about app accessibility settings here.
VoiceOver will easily show the user what button to press for the camera, but did not work well with choosing filters or complicated message settings. I can navigate filters just fine with no additional settings, but sometimes use Zoom to navigate the side menu and add text, drawings, colors, etc. The layout is very quick to learn and the side menu features large, bold icons.
The menu text isn’t very large but works well with VoiceOver and read the names of my friends easily. One thing to note is that it reads all emoji, which is typical of a screen reading program. VoiceOver can also read text messages, though it gets confused over large strings of emoji (read more about texting etiquette and low vision here).
Make messages easy to read
I use these two tricks to make messages easier to read both with and without additional accessibility settings.
Infinite picture length with Zoom
I request that my friends send me messages with infinite timer available, meaning that the picture does not disappear after a few seconds. When the message is open, I triple-tap to enable zoom and can look at the text or details of the picture. Alternatively, I will take a screenshot of the image and then look at it more closely in another program. My friends are used to me doing this and are happy to accommodate. Speaking of pictures, learn more about creating high resolution images here.
Large picture text
When sending a Snapchat message, the sender can click the T button to make the text large and bold, and change the color as well. This is really helpful for me as I can read text without having to magnify it.
There are a lot of concerns about staying safe on Snapchat, and I follow several rules myself. This includes locking down my profile so people can’t find it, only adding trusted friends, and making sure the contents of my messages aren’t something I would mind being screenshot or seeing on a billboard. My friends follow the same rules as I do so I feel comfortable using the app. Learn more about creating secure passwords to prevent hacking here.
How I use it
I do not use Snapchat extremely often, maybe a few times a week. My friends who live in different states made a group chat so we can all keep in touch and I have found it easy to look through messages and see what people are up to. I also use it as a backup communication method for friends if my phone is charging or missing.
How my friends have reacted
I have some of the greatest friends in the world who are all understanding of my vision loss. If I ask them to modify or resend a Snapchat message so I can see it, they will quickly do it, never getting upset with me. They also don’t send me things that can trigger a migraine, such as strobing or flashing images. Read more about how having friends with the same condition as me is awesome here.
While it still can be improved, Snapchat can definitely be used by people with low vision. Some improvements I hope to see are optional alt text settings and improved VoiceOver compatibility on the camera. However, I appreciate that Snapchat has some accessibility features that allow visually impaired users to join their friends and send a silly selfie or two.