Accessibility seems to have taken a back seat in recent years. There was a time when every website we produced had to have a W3C accreditation and meet the RNIB’s ‘See it Right’ guidelines. Best practice and the law still dictate that websites – and print materials – need to be accessible. For websites, screen readers and voice control are still paramount. But don’t forget the rest of the world; there is much more to accessibility than web design. It also touches print, signage and every aspect of visual communication.
What is accessibility?
Well, it applies to everything, not just websites. It applies to anything that you hope will be read and understood. Designing to ensure communications are accessible should always be on a designer's mind, not just when producing materials for an older audience or the visually-impaired.
A young 20-something designer may set his business card in 8pt Helvetica, in grey (!) and he might be able read it fine. Handing it to a 50-something potential client may cause some issues.
What issues should accessible design tackle?
Setting aside the built environment, this article will tackle print, signage and digital communications.
Accessible design should address:
• Poor and the partially-sighted
• In the case of websites and digital ‘tools’ – blindness
• Temporary impairment, for instance through illness or intoxication
Is it really an issue?
Yes it is.
56.7 million Americans (18.7% of the U.S. population) have some type of disability and of this number, an estimated 38.3 million (12.6%) have a severe disability*.
It is difficult to find figures for the UK. However, it is ‘safe’ to say 12 million people in the UK have some form of disability and about 2 million suffer from sight loss.
Why exclude anyone from your communications? Every design should enable any reader to engage with your communications. Designing in an accessible way does not mean adding restrictions to creativity; it means opening your designs to the world.
Let’s look at some of the accessibility issues, albeit briefly.
*Source www.interactiveaccessibility.com – interestingly they set their type in grey.
Accessibility starts with the language you use. Here are a few things to consider when writing your ‘straw man proposal’ text during your ‘WIP’ – if you see what I mean.**
• Use plain English
• Avoid abbreviations
• Steer clear of industry speak and jargon
• Talk (write) like you are talking to everyone
• Focus on engagement, not pushing your message
**Jargon and absolute rubbish!
Font and size
A common misconception is sans serif text is easier to read. Really? Why is every novel you read set in serif text, then? Some fonts are more legible than others and they differ depending on their application, be it print or on screen. As a very high level guide, serif fonts work best for large areas of text in print, while sans serif fonts work best on screen. Legibility and readability (not the same thing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legibility and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Readability) is too big an issue to tackle here. As a general rule, keep type to a size in line with a typical newspaper – and online even bigger. Look at the UK’s government website: https://www.gov.uk/ The font is clear as a bell and relatively large.
Make your text readable
Make sure you add in paragraph breaks regularly in your text. Offer the readership (online) to read more if they want to by providing a link – nothing turns a user off more than great big swathes of text.
Subheads alert the readership to a change in content and help vary the content. They break up the text and encourage the reader to read on.
Avoid justified text unless you are designing a book and, even then, setting justified text is a specialist job. Never use justified text on a website.
Avoid centred text unless in a headline or in a very small amount, in an invitation, for instance.
Have you ever read a piece of text, got to the end of the line and read the same line again? Generally this is down to poor typography. Or sleepiness. Keep your line lengths short, the lines not too ragged and use proper punctuation.
Clarity in typography
Keep to text black as much as possible and try to stick to the 'three font size' rule for any publication. The more colours and sizes you use, the less legible your document or web page will be. What you should aim for is a clear indication of what the typographic hierarchy is. A headline, the most important element on the page, a standfirst (which should be a synopsis of the following article) subheads and clear copy.
After your piece of communication has been read – by everyone – is it clear what action they should take, if any? Just because you know what a reader should do does not mean they will. A call to action could be to call, visit a website or read more. Stop, and take time to consider not just what your ‘defined’ audience should do but also the rest of the world. If it is easy for everybody to know what to do next, it will be really easy for your client base to respond.
Colour and contrast
Ensure your content has good contrast against the background colour. Colour-blindness typically affects the colour combinations blue and yellow or red and green. Avoid using these in combination and setting content that does not have sufficient contrast.
Try not to use colour solely to communicate something. Using orange to indicate a particular service or outcome may not be apparent to a user, and invisible to some.
If in doubt, spell it out. Whatever you do, don’t use icons to solely communicate anything, ever.
Dealing with accessibility online is a big subject but, if considered during the design stage, easily tackled. At risk of not doing the subject justice (which I’m not), here are a few things to consider:
• All of the above
• Alt tags on images that describe the image
• Use H1 and H2 tags consistently and properly
• Tables can cause issues – code them so that using the ‘tab’ key enables users to navigate using the keyboard
• Text should be ‘live’ and not be a graphic
• Caption images and videos and provide alternatives to media. If you are deaf how can you get the same information from an embedded video?
• Use web ‘conventions’ – underline links, for instance.
I could go on. I should. But for this email I think this is all we have time for.
If you would like an accessibility review – all you need to do is drop us a line or give us a call on: 020 7813 0373