Why You Should Stop Using Instagram Fonts
Learn why these fancy fonts pose an issue for people with disabilities.
You’ve more than likely seen “fonts” like this on Instagram, but they’re also used on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Discord, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Pinterest, and many other places online. For the purposes of this post, I’m referring to them as “Instagram fonts” because that is the platform they are used on most often, and that is the most popular search term used to find them.
Instagram fonts are not accessible to people who use screen readers. Let’s take a closer look at where they come from, and why it is a blocker for accessibility.
What are “Instagram fonts”?
These funky letters and images are not actually fonts (or typefaces, to be accurate). Our keyboards hold all of the characters that we use for creating words, numbers, punctuation, etc., but there are thousands of other characters and symbols that exist out there thanks to Unicode.
Unicode scripts support multiple different languages spoken around the world, and there are character sets that resemble our alphabet and even emojis. These characters are what people are copying and pasting from websites into social media bio’s, captions, and posts.
What is Unicode?
“Unicode is the universal character encoding, maintained by the Unicode Consortium. This encoding standard provides the basis for processing, storage and interchange of text data in any language in all modern software and information technology protocols.” — home.unicode.org
What is the scope of Unicode?
“Unicode covers all the characters for all the writing systems of the world, modern and ancient. It also includes technical symbols, punctuations, and many other characters used in writing text. The Unicode Standard is intended to support the needs of all types of users, whether in business or academia, using mainstream or minority scripts.” — home.unicode.org
So why are these characters bad for accessibility?
People who use screen readers can’t see online content the way others can due to chronic pain, processing disorders, vision difficulty, and varying levels of blindness (and many more physical and mental difficulties not listed). Screen readers are very literal and read what is shown on the computer or phone screen based on how it is coded. This is important to note, now that we know that Instagram fonts aren’t actually typefaces but rather scripts that resemble letters. Let’s look at an example:
[ID: Tweet from Kent C. Dodds including a video showing how assistive technologies read Instagram fonts out loud]
As it shows in the video Kent C. Dodds posted on Twitter, VoiceOver reads the Instagram font for “cute” as each individual Unicode character: “mathematical script small c, mathematical script small u, mathematical script small t, mathematical script small e” instead of reading it out as the word “cute”.
Now imagine having tweets, posts, bio’s, etc read out to you like this, when a person uses lots of Instagram fonts in their posts. Super exhausting, and frustrating because you can’t understand what the post or tweet is actually about. It’s inaccessible because people who use screen readers don’t have the same experience as people who can visually see the characters rendered as letters.
I have seen established organizations and individuals using these fonts, and their messages are not getting the reach that they intended at all. In addition, they are unintentionally creating more inaccessible content online.
If you have one takeaway from reading this today, I hope it is this: When you use Instagram fonts, people who use screen readers are blocked from receiving your message the way it was intended. Instead, the message they receive is another closed door to equitable experiences online.