Accessible design for print publications

Accessible design for print publications
October 15, 2019 Calverts

Accessible design for print publications

We have over 40 years’ experience designing and printing publications, and have worked with a number of organisations for whom accessibility is a high priority.

Here are some recommendations and resources for ensuring that a publication is as accessible as possible for people with disabilities, low literacy, or learning difficulties.


Structure for clarity

Good structure works for all readers, but especially people using mobile devices and assistive technologies such as screen readers or DAISY (Digital Accessible Information SYstem) software to navigate a digital publication, and anyone who has difficulty absorbing large amounts of information at once.

While most of a publication’s structure depends on the content, designers can help make it easy for readers to navigate and interpret documents through visual elements including:

    • intuitive visual hierarchy of headings, chapters, sections and subsections
    • logical flow of text and images to provide a clear reading order
    • section markers and page numbers in a consistent place on each page.

Sometimes we’ll work with our client to help them structure their content clearly on the page. For example, we worked closely with the authors of the King’s College London Social Mobility and Student Success Division’s 2018 yearbook to find a clear way to communicate the complex strands of the department’s work with different age groups across the education system.


Accessible text and type

The UK Association for Accessible Formats (UKAAF) has developed clear print document guidelines (PDF) to help designers make sure that text in their publications is as easy to read as possible.

Recommendations include:

    • font size should be at least 12pt and preferably 14pt, 16 pt for large print
    • there should be high contrast between text and background
    • body text should be left aligned, with consistent orientation throughout the page
    • space between columns and lines of text should be large enough to be distinct
    • avoid using all capital letters, italics, underline
    • set text horizontally, not on a slant.

Choice of typeface can also make a huge difference – simulated handwriting, unusual shaped letters, and or decorative type can quickly become illegible.

When choosing type for accessible publications keep these considerations in mind, but also look at details including:

    • the length or height of letters b, f, p etc, as short ascenders and descenders generally make a typeface more difficult to read
    • stroke width, as fonts with uneven strokes tend to be less legible
    • individual characteristics of letters and numbers, for example a ‘3’ can look like an ‘8’.

A recent project that required a high level of legibility was the Asylum Navigation Board we created with Right to Remain and Dr Victoria Canning.

Our designer used FS Me, a typeface that was created specifically to improve legibility for people with learning disabilities, a group who often face additional challenges navigating the asylum system.


Colour and contrast

It’s best to avoid using colour alone to convey information in an accessible publication because some people may be unable to distinguish between colours, in particular red and green.

We are currently working with a client for whom accessibility was highlighted as a key priority. Before presenting our initial routes we ran our initial design routes through a colour vision deficiency simulator to see how well our palettes degraded and whether shapes and text were still distinct.

For digital designs there is Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 guidance on the right level of contrast and many accessibility checkers will allow you to test your designs.

When designing accessible publications we often draw on our print experience as paper choices, colour density, and print method can affect the legibility of a finished printed product.


Images and layout

Content creators should ideally provide descriptive text – as a caption or Alt text – for images that are essential to understanding the content on a page, such as diagrams.

Other things to avoid when using images in an accessible publication:

    • putting text over images
    • using photos that contain a lot of detail or in which the foreground and background are not well contrasted
    • fitting text around images if it disrupts the reading order.

Keeping page layouts clear, simple, and consistent supports people with impaired vision but can also help reduce overwhelm for readers on the autistic spectrum and enhance readability for people with dyslexia or who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Large blocks of text can be broken up by:

    • keeping paragraphs short
    • using line spacing between paragraphs
    • using wide margins and headings
    • including lists as bullet points
    • using boxes to emphasise or highlight important text (as long as this doesn’t create visual ‘clutter’).


Choosing the right format and materials

We draw on our print design expertise to help clients create accessible publications using the most suitable formats, materials, and methods.

This could include:

    • using cream or off-white matt, silk, or uncoated paper to reduce glare
    • use a paper weight over 90gsm to make pages easy to handle and prevent text showing through from the reverse side of the page
    • choosing standard document sizes such as A4 and avoiding very large, very small, or unusually shaped documents that can be difficult to handle
    • using wide margins to avoid text being hidden by the spine crease
    • choosing appropriate binding – such as wirebound or lay flat – which will help make the document easy to handle and to scan
    • creating structured, tagged PDFs for digital publications.

We aim to bring these accessibility guidelines together with the audience profile, publication objectives, and creative brief supplied by our client to develop design solutions that are beautiful, effective, and available to all.


Further information


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