“Accessibility” is the inclusive practice of designing so people with disabilities can engage equitably. That’s a large slice of the population: according to Census Bureau data, nearly 30% of people in the United States and about one in 6 worldwide have a disability.
As a public institution, the University of Michigan must comply with the accessibility standards set by WCAG 2.0 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). But making content accessible is also an essential part of our culture of inclusion at U-M, and another example of our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Accessible technology has led to innovations like Siri, speech-to-text dictation, touchscreen devices and much more. It’s helped increase usability and user experience, and improved the quality of code. And accessible design often breeds innovative technology.
If you have accessibility questions, there is a web accessibility working group on campus you can contact for help. You can also email the email@example.com group, which includes staff from the Office for Institutional Equity (OIE) and ITS, who can answer questions; they can also add you to the MCommunity Group for the Web Accessibility Working Group.
Most people think of websites when they think of accessibility. But printed materials should also be accessible. And there are things U-M communicators can and should be doing to achieve that objective. Since the ADA does not yet provide guidance about print, the guidelines below are U-M accessibility and design experts’ best-practice recommendations.
Overall, we aim to create attractive, legible and readable materials to engage the widest range of users. This means considering accessibility before, and during, the design process and being open to requests for alternative versions.
The best way to ensure accessible print materials is to offer alternate modalities — electronic files, audio versions, Braille, large-print or alternate-contrast versions (such as low-contrast versions or reverse-contrast type versions) — and advertise the availability of those alternatives.
You can also improve your print materials by following these guidelines:
These days we have access to countless fonts in myriad styles and weights. So it’s impossible to pick one minimum size to ensure readability for every possible font option. But here are some general principles:
Use a sans serif font for the main body of text whenever possible, since they’re more readable. Simple serif fonts can be used, but dramatic thicks and thins and exaggerated serifs are hard to read. Fonts with large x-heights are easier to read.
Use at least 12-point type for body copy when possible. If you have to use 10-point type, make sure it has a large x-height. Footnotes and photo credits should be no smaller than 8-point. Set leading at least 20–25% greater than the font size. Extra leading helps readers maintain their place and move smoothly through content.
Roman fonts are preferred. Avoid italics and all caps. Be sure underlining does not connect with the bases of letters.
Avoid using too many different fonts on one page.
Set type flush-left/ragged-right, since using justified text can decrease readability. Optimum line length is 8–12 words (approximately 60 characters).
In general, use dark foreground text on a light background, and vice versa. There should be a 70% difference in color value between background and text.
Color screens behind black type should be no darker than 20%.
Use Color contrast checking tools to test contrast against common standards like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.X Success Criteria 1.4.3 Contrast (Minimum).Do not rely on color as the only means of communicating information. Be sure to use alternative options as well, like symbols, patterns or additional text identifiers.
Bright white paper can produce excessive glare. Choose a dull-finish, smooth paper heavy enough to prevent showthrough if your piece is two-sided.
Limit decorative fonts and type-on-path text elements. Make sure any words treated decoratively are repeated within the main body of text.
Try to avoid placing text blocks over photographs, illustrations or other graphics. It can be difficult to ensure enough contrast against non-solid backgrounds.
If folds are necessary, they should be simple and intuitive, like the popular folds shown here.
Keep the organization of content straightforward. Use headings to break up copy and enhance readability and comprehension. Make sure headings are descriptive of the text that follows them.
Ensure paragraphs have consistent letter spacing and word spacing. Set type flush-left/ragged-right; justified text can decrease readability. Optimum line length is 8–12 words (approximately 60 characters).
Avoid visual clutter and maximize white space. People with low vision and those with cognitive disabilities benefit from ample white space.
Read more about language on the editorial resources page.
Know your audience. Write for them, not for the experts. There are many resources that can help, including this one from WebAIM. In general:
- Keep the message short and simple.
- Use short sentences, paragraphs and sections.
- •Avoid complex words and sentences. It’s better to avoid acronyms entirely, but if that’s not possible, define and/or spell them out at least once in the content, generally at the first mention.
- Steer clear of “internal speak” and confusing jargon. Use words your audience will understand and relate to.
- Shorten and clarify complex material.
- Add white space. People with low vision and those with cognitive disabilities benefit from ample white space.
Break up copy using headings to help readers navigate through content. Headings should be descriptive of the text that follows them.
Use the active voice instead of the passive.
The University of Michigan values diversity in all forms. It is up to us to create a culture of caring and accountability around accessibility. Create plans for providing alternatives, and processes that members of the community can follow to request accessible materials.
Plan for adequate paper size and stock, high-quality images, alternate formats and the extra time and funding needed for creating additional formats.
Allow sufficient time for the creation of alternate formats — including proofing and review by an accessibility expert.