ASCII art is a design technique that uses letters, numbers, punctuation, and other characters from the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) to make illustrative pictures. It’s often used on social media to create topical memes and is regularly used by many major brands, as shown in the below tweet.
Unfortunately, ASCII art illustrations are not accessible for anyone using a screen reader or text-to-speech program, and digital marketers and content creators should not use it in their content if they want to remain inclusive.
Assistive devices are programmed to read characters and punctuation marks as they were originally intended. They cannot properly discern when characters are used to create illustrations, so ASCII art can result in a confusing message when read by a screen reader.
It should also be noted that ASCII art formatting doesn’t always look the same between browsers and devices—especially on Twitter—because the characters can shift, as seen in the two tweets below. While the tweet that Canva created looked fine on the Desktop version of Twitter (left image), the ASCII art had clearly shifted when it was seen on TweetDeck (right image).
If you really want to use ASCII art, there’s an easy way to share it while keeping your content accessible. All you have to do is create your ASCII art in a blank word document, screenshot the illustration, upload the screenshot to your post or tweet as an image, and then add alt text to the image before publishing it.