I have a plea for all of you who write on the web — whether that’s on a blog, in a newsletter, on Twitter, or anywhere else: if you are going to share text from a book or other offline source, please do not share just an image of the text; please share a transcript of the text instead!
When you share an image of text — whether that’s a tweet-shot, or you’re pasting in as part of the content of a newsletter — anyone who is visually impaired or fully blind will be unable to read that text. There are a lot of ways this can play out, but none of them are good! People using a screen reader to be able to read what you’re writing will just hear something like “image.” If someone needs to use a high-contrast or inverted colors setting to be able to read text on a screen, the image won’t respect that. The same thing goes for users who have set their basic text size to be larger because they can’t read small text:1 the image will just ignore that.
In short, if you share an image of text, rather than actual text, you’re making it difficult-to-impossible to read for some of your readers!
The first, best option is to actually supply the full text directly.2 If you’re sharing text like this, you can format it as a block quote and that’ll tend not only to look nice but to have benefits for screen reader users as well. (Nearly all blogging and email software supports marking up a section of text as a block quote!) Just snagging text from a site you’re reading is pretty easy here: copy and paste instead of taking a screenshot. Books and other physical copy are harder, of course: transcribing text by typing it out is tedious. Happily, though, there are apps which make it fast and easy to get the actual text out of a book and into your blog or newsletter!
On iOS, I’ve been extremely happy using PrizmoGo to solve this problem. You just take a picture of the book, it converts that picture into text, and you can copy and paste it into another app, save it to a file, etc.3 It’s barely any more work than a picture is, not least because a substantial part of it just is taking a picture! Though I don’t know which are the best to point to, there are similar apps on Android which you can use. (If you have a good recommendation, email me — I’ll edit it in here and credit you for the info as you like!)
If you must share an image (maybe it’s from a microfiche catalog and OCR fails?), please look for a way to add “descriptive text” or similar in the tool you’re posting with. Twitter and Facebook have both enabled this in the past year, and on Instagram you can post the text content in the post associated with the picture. None of these are perfect — and in particular, they’re very limited in the amount of text you can share — but they’re better than nothing!4
Thank you for listening to this PSA from your fellow writer-on-the-internet!
Which, let’s be honest, is nearly all of us at some point in the future, just given how human vision degrades over our lives! ↩︎
But Chris, you say, this quote is too long for Twitter! And even with the tweet storm functionality they’ve added, it’s just way too long to share in that format! Yes, I say. This is another reason why Twitter is in fact a terrible place for trying to share anything of substance (or even talk about anything of substance). ↩︎
I actually built a small workflow in Shortcuts to turn text captured this way into a quote item in my Zettelkasten. It’s nothing fancy; it just prompts me for a title for the quote, the author’s name, and any tags I’d like to add, and then drops it right into Bear. Very handy! ↩︎
This is the part where I reiterate my comments about Twitter, but now generalize them to social media in general. ↩︎