Are businesses making their printed materials accessible enough?

Written by James Shields on 11 November 2019 in Opinion
Opinion

Consider conditions such as dyslexia, colour blindness and early onset dementia, says James Shields.

Reading time: 4 minutes

Inclusivity and accessibility are essential traits in every modern business. Yet new research suggests this doesn’t come across in most of their printed materials.

Over half of UK companies don’t create printed material with conditions like dyslexia, colour blindness and early onset dementia in mind – according to results of a recent survey.

This not only creates a disconnect between organisations and a broad cross-section of their customers, it also disqualifies certain audiences from understanding precisely what they’re trying to communicate.

The survey found that 60% of businesses firmly believe accessibility issues should be considered, yet 45% simply don't think about individuals with those conditions day-to-day.

This suggests that awareness remains one of the biggest obstacles to creating more accessible printed content. 

Why are firms ignoring accessibility?

Many of the challenges facing people with dyslexia, early onset dementia and colour blindness tend to overlap.

People living with these conditions can have trouble focusing on or following large amounts of text and written content. They may also struggle to interpret and digest different font styles, colours and patterns. 

Of the companies who said they do focus on accessibility when designing and creating printed content, very few considered all of these conditions.

While 61% said they considered basic literacy issues, and 50% considered colour blindness, only 9.5% took early onset dementia into account as a barrier to accessibility.

Over half of UK companies don’t create printed material with dyslexia, colour blindness and early onset dementia in mind

The most common reason they gave for ignoring these considerations was that the demographics didn't make up a large enough section of their target market. 

Responses were a little different from the 56% who admitted to making no efforts create accessible design.

Instead of demographics being the key reason for ignoring accessibility, the most common response (45%) was that they just didn't think about it at all.

Demographics still played a significant role however, with 42% claiming that people affected by these issues didn't match up with their target audience. 

What makes accessible printing?

The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) provides some top tips for companies looking to make their content more accessible. Its advice covers:

Fonts

  • Use clear fonts such as Comic Sans and other sans serif styles.
  • Stick to a font size of 12 to 14 point (or your operating system’s equivalent).
  • Headings should be 20% larger than the rest of your text.
  • Format hyperlinks using a different colour or bold to make them clear and obvious.

Spacing

  • Character or inter-letter spacing should equal 35% of the average letter width to make each letter easily identifiable.
  • Inter-word spacing should be 3.5 times the inter-letter spacing.
  • Use a line spacing of 1.5 (150%).
  • Allow for extra space around headers and between paragraphs.

Colours

  • Use block colours instead of patterns for your backgrounds.
  • Avoid white backgrounds as these can be too dazzling.
  • Use a significant contrast between your background and text colours.

Layout and alignment

  • Keep your text left aligned
  • Don't use multiple columns
  • Remove clutter by making use of space
  • Keep lines to a maximum of 70 characters

What more could businesses be doing?

Making your printed content more accessible for everyone simply involves making sure you're creating content that's well-structured and clearly written.

With just a little extra effort and consideration, you can take your printed materials to the next level by doing the following: 

Use visual hierarchies for layout

Implement design features and formatting to draw attention to key parts of your content, to help readers with accessibility issues identify areas they need to concentrate on.

This will also help them understand the order they need to read your content for greater context. 

Using repetitive language styles, structures and alignment will help readers identify information that belongs together.

This goes a long way to helping readers with accessibility challenges identify groups and themes within your content. 

Structure your content for scan-reading

Break up large sections of copy with regular and clear headers. Headers should make it easy for readers to identify what your content is about instantly and highlight which parts are most relevant to them.

 



 

Many conditions that give rise to accessibility issues can also create challenges with focus, so keeping things short is an ideal way to make sure they take in the information.

Try to keep each line to a maximum of 70 characters, use a separate paragraph for each point and use bullet points where possible to break up text. 

Write in plain English

Keeping your writing clear and simple will ensure readers understand what you're saying. This is important when creating content of any type, but it's especially important when considering accessibility.

Avoid jargon and write in a way that someone with no pre-existing knowledge of your subject will understand. 

How could your business get involved?

Three key things help businesses improve the accessibility of their printed materials: 

  1. A change of mindset.
  2. Being user-centric when planning printed content.
  3. Understanding more about accessibility challenges people face.

Instead of viewing accessible content creation as an additional task, look at it as making your content as clear and straightforward as possible.

That way, you make it easier for people to read and understand your messages, regardless of their accessibility needs. 

Seeing printed designs in this way, and being more aware of the challenges some of your customers and readers might face, makes it easier to create more user-centric printed materials. 

 

About the author

James Shields is head of marketing at Solopress

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