In our previous post, we looked at mindfulness tips to help with using digital tools, screen and digital fatigue. Over the next number of weeks, we will be revisiting accessibility and breaking it down per area:

  • Text
  • Visual information
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Colour, and
  • Design and Output

Everything that will be covered is to help you improve the accessibility of your digital content, thus benefitting your audience (whether that’s students, staff or the general public).

Why is Accessibility important?

Think about how you navigate the physical world. How do you typically get to work or university in the morning?

If you drive, when you first use a car you adjust the seat to suit your foot distance to the pedals. You’ll check the mirrors for rear view. You might adjust the height of the steering wheel to fit your frame. Check the seatbelt and tune in to your preferred radio station. Cars have adjustable items for your comfort.

However, imagine if they didn’t. The driving experience would become uncomfortable as you perhaps sit on the edge of the seat, straining to reach the foot pedals. Maybe the seatbelt is too tight and you can’t see the content of the rearview mirrors. How awfully uncomfortable AND dangerous!

Whilst accessibility for digital content may not be particularly life-threatening, it can be very uncomfortable for some audience members.

This week, we look at the accessibility of text for different audience members and how better text might benefit them. By better text, we are not talking about writing style, we’re talking about how audience members can access the written word in different formats.

How do I make text more accessible?

Do you wear glasses or do you know anyone with a visual impairment? Can they read the text you can? If not, why not? What do we need to think about?

Many audience members may wear glasses or be living with visual impairment, i.e., they may be on a scale of reduced vision to no vision at all and for a variety of reasons.

Using text at whatever size, format and layout you decide upon (because you can see and read it) will not be appropriate for other people you intend to communicate with.

Think about what you can do to improve your audience reach and why.

Design for output

Let’s start with design for output. What are you putting text on and how will it be read? Is it a word document in print? Will the item be online as a PDF or are you presenting your work as a presentation displayed remotely or in a lecture theatre projected onto a screen?

Why is this important? Size matters.

A printed A4 page of text is in closer proximity to the viewer, so text can be smaller but there’s a minimum size.

Presentations projected onto screens in a lecture theatre or auditorium need larger text and less text on the display as your audience members may be at the back of the hall. Text needs to be larger.

Size

For text in print (A4 document), the recommendation is a minimum size 12 with 60 to 70 characters per line, i.e., approximately 12 to 18 words. Copies may need to be available in larger text formats and/or braille.

Text size is different for presentations, the recommendation is a minimum of size 24 (although 28 is better if possible) for body text and a minimum size 36 for slide titles.

Space

Spacing is an important consideration. If text is too close together, it becomes harder to read and digest, as can be seen below:

Single line spacing example
Single line spacing example

The recommended spacing between lines of text for both print and display is 1.5 line spacing. This helps break text up and allows quicker reading / scanning of the text. An example of 1.5 line spacing can be seen below:

1.5 line spacing example
1.5 line spacing example
Alignment

Here, we show you different examples of text alignment. This was one of the mindfulness tips from last week, we’ve just reused the content here to show examples of text alignment.

Example of justified text (image)
Example of justified text (image)
Example of right aligned text (image)
Example of right aligned text (image)
Example of left aligned text  (image)
Example of left aligned text (image)

Which did you prefer to read?

Studies show that left aligned text with a jagged right edge helps with reading speed and scanning. This is particularly useful for those living with dyslexia but it benefits all audience members where reading and scanning is concerned.

Font type

The type of font used makes a big difference to reading speed and understanding. Fancy fonts require double the brain power to decipher the words and then put the sentences together. That’s a lot of effort and some fonts are way more fancy and decorative than others.

In design, fancy fonts have their place, but for the everyday, keep it simple.

Below, you will see the same text in different fonts, some are easier on the eye than others.

Font examples
Font examples

Plain fonts are quicker to read. Typically, there are two font families: Serif and Sans Serif. Below you will see an example of Serif (with feet which are fancier fonts) and Sans Serif (foot free, more modern and easier to read).

Serif vs Sans Serif example
Serif vs Sans Serif example

Sans serif fonts in circulation include:

  • arial
  • calibri
  • verdana
  • century gothic
Using preformatted styles

Whether you are creating an online document or presentation, use preformatted styles / templates. This is beneficial for audience members with less vision whom may rely upon screen readers.

By using styles and templates, screen readers can ‘pick up’ the text appropriately and relay the content to the user using electronic speech.

Example of text styles in MS Word
Example of text styles in MS Word

Not only are styles a benefit to the end user, if you use styles you can change the format of Headings and Subheadings throughout the document. This is done by modifying the appropriate style within MS Word which is also a time saver and good practice.

Formatting and layout

By properly using the text styles to denote headings, subheadings, body text, quotes and PowerPoint templates, users of screen readers can navigate to the section(s) they wish to digest. If text is not appropriately formatted, users of screen readers need to listen to everything in sequence (linear) in the hope the relevant content is there.

This is a timely endeavour which is frustrating and a disadvantage. Use the styles and template formats as this essentially arranges the content into sections, much like bookmarking or an index.

PowerPoint Slide templates with content holders
PowerPoint Slide templates with content holders

If you use blank templates and add in text boxes, you are majorly disadvantaging audience members whom use screen readers. Please use the template slide outs as indicated above as these can be seen and read by screen readers.

Please avoid using blank slides, use the preformatted options with content holders. Presentations can have slide designs applied, and much like the text styles in MS Word, these designs can be modified which will filter throughout the rest of the presentation, saving time and effort.

For more hints and tips regards MS Word and PowerPoint design, please do keep an eye out for future accessibility blogs, we’ll be covering a lot about accessibility over the coming weeks and preparing you for what YOU need to do when creating content.

This is all content, not just teaching material. Any content intended for viewing by staff / students or the public needs to be accessible. By making the content accessible in MS Word or PowerPoint and then saving it as a PDF, the PDF copy will also result in being more accessible.

It’s law, best practice and it’s the right thing to do.

Summary

If you follow these recommendations for accessibility, you will be including more audience members in your communications as you will have covered more bases where accessibility is concerned. It’s inclusive.

Accessibility law has changed in the UK for websites and this will be updated in June 2021 to reflect mobile sites as well.

The deadline for public sector organisations to make all existing websites accessible is 23 September 2020, and the compliance date for mobile applications is 23 June 2021.

Regulations on the accessibility of new public sector websites come into force
Next time

Our blog post next Monday will look at hacking accessibility in the form of visual content, i.e., photos, etc.

Remember, the DigiKnow blog posts are now released at noon on a Monday.

Please do join us then to learn more and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @MDBSelearn.


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