Font Tips for Accessibility
Updated: Dec 16, 2022
Have you ever seen an advertisement and struggled to read parts of it due to the font being used? If so, you are not alone! Many ads both digital and printed are designed without regard to design accessibility. Design accessibility plays a huge role in ensuring that the end user can interact with and respond to whatever you design. To design for accessibility is to design to be inclusive to the needs of all users. This includes your target audience, people outside of your target demographic, people with disabilities, and even people from different cultures and countries. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 1.1 billion people are living with sight loss. That is a large audience you could potentially be missing due to inaccessible design.
One key component of design is typography or fonts. What is an accessible font? Accessible fonts are easy to see, read and understand for all people. While accessible design is generally focused on people with disabilities, everyone benefits from the use of accessible fonts. According to SiteImprove, a leader in accessibility, the most accessible fonts are Tahoma, Calibri, Helvetica, Arial, Verdana, and Times New Roman. There are plenty of other fonts outside of this list that are accessible. I will go over some tips for ensuring your desired font is accessible to the end user.
First, you want to pick typefaces that have clear and easily recognizable characters. This means you want to choose a typeface with letters that are easy to identify so that your text is legible and readable. Legibility refers to how easy it is to recognize characters and tell them apart. Poor legibility also tends to contribute to poor readability. Readability is how easy it is to read the text, and it is related to the typeface and how the designer lays out the type. Don’t use decorative typefaces that have hard to recognize characters. This would be most script fonts or other decorative or themed fonts. While these fonts are beautiful to some, they are illegible to most. If you are going to use them pick a decorative font that is easy to read.
Secondly, choose typefaces that have characters that are easy to tell apart. This means making sure that all the characters look unique. You can check whether a typeface has easily distinguishable characters by comparing certain characters that often look similar. To do this, you would compare similar characters like B with 8, a with o, I with i, l with L, and L with I, etc.
Next, make sure to choose typefaces with a regular or medium font weight. If the weight of the text is too thin it can be very hard to read, especially if the text is a small font size. If the contrast between the text and the background is poor, thin text might be impossible to read. Alternatively, if the weight of the font is too heavy the letters can start to run together and be just as hard to read. A regular or medium weight is perfect for optimal readability. Choosing a font family that has multiple different weights to choose from is the best route to go so that you can still use different heading styles to communicate hierarchy.
Those are the top three tips for font accessibility. There are also a lot of other things to consider for accessible design. You want to ensure your font size is large enough, typically a 12-point minimum. Another important factor is color contrast. Accessible designs must meet a certain ratio for color contrast between text and the background behind it. This ratio as defined by Section 508 is 4.5:1. There are free color contrast checkers available online. Although there is a lot that goes into choosing an accessible font, there are plenty of guides available. If you follow these three tips, you will be on the right track to engaging with your potential hard of sight customers.