Hashtag Hashtags {Accessibility and Legibility for Everyone}


Growing up, I learned it as the pound sign on my family’s corded phone. Or also an abbreviation for the word “number,” like the ampersand as “and.” But now, the “#” is a hashtag or metadata tag for social networking platforms. 

There’s a The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon skit from 2013 with Justin Timberlake entitled, “#Hashtag.” It goes on for two minutes with hand gesture hashtags, tagging their conversation as they have it (Hashtag gettin’ my cookie on. Hashtag I’m the real Cookie Monster. Hashtag Om nom nom nom). Really, a funny view of a culture takeover. And I totally did, sometimes still do, use those hashtag hands.

Did you know, hashtags are inherently not case sensitive?
#momsarounddayton = #MomsAroundDayton


Accessibility and legibility are reasons to use capitalization in hashtag use. Each new word capitalized (aka camel case) separates words otherwise squished together in a tag.

Access? Without spaces in hashtags, screen reader programs with synthesized speech cannot accurately convey messaging. With capitalization, these same programs are more likely to correctly interpret original content.

Legible? People other than blind or visually impaired benefit from hashtag capitalization. Without the cues of uppercase, a several-word-long hashtag can be cumbersome for anyone.For example, ididitallforthecookie or IDidItAllForTheCookie? At a quick glance, I think it’s an easy argument to say the camel case reads easier and more quickly.

To effectively utilize the internal capitalization of hashtags, it does take extra effort. When starting a hashtag, suggestions start to auto-populate after the symbol. If I click any of the suggested words, it finishes the tag with no capitalization, even taking away capitalization I already started. I have to manually choose to write out the entire tag and insert my own capitals as I type.

I do use the auto-populate option as a real-time spell check. If a hashtag is suggested but goes away before I finished, I probably had a misclick somewhere and got a letter wrong. And do we still call it a misclick? When using a touchpad keyboard, I’m not clicking any buttons…

Since finding out about camel case for hashtags, I have made the switch. It is not that much more effort, and if it includes more people and increases the readability, then that’s a win in my book.