Universal Design — Learn How to Design Accessible Documents for Disability Pride Month

Universal Design

This July, we’re honouring Disability Pride Month by raising awareness of the barriers that disabled people face and experience, many of which often have nothing to do with their disability.

These problems instead stem from an inaccessible and at times discriminatory society that inherently disadvantage them. One thing that we can do to help mitigate this is promote universal design; specifically, designing accessible documents that both the abled and disabled can enjoy alike.

What is Disability Pride month?

Disability Pride Month was established July 26, 1990 when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in the United States to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities. Since then, July has become a popular month to celebrate Disability Pride around the world.

In Australia, 1 in 6 people are estimated to have some form of disability; that’s around 4.4 million people nationwide. The World Health Organization states that almost everyone will experience some form of disability in their life – either temporary or permanent – making this an important issue for everyone to understand.

Needing accessibility, accommodation or representation is not something to be embarrassed about; many people see their disability as an essential part of who they are and their experience of life. It’s important for everyone to have a sense of pride in who they are – their whole self, including their disability.

Building a more accessible world for the disabled with universal design

There are many ways to build a more inclusive and accessible world for those that are disabled, including better planning for infrastructure and putting theories of universal access and design into action – including how we present the written word. Universal design and designing accessible documents is one way in which we can do this.

Universal design is a theory that says things (being environments, buildings, products, and services) should be designed so that all people who wish to use them can, regardless of their age, size, gender, mobility, cultural background, or mental and physical wellbeing.

Universal design for documents is about making a document as easy to follow and understand as possible. While design choices might be made for people with visual impairments or language-based learning disorders like dyslexia, documents designed, at their heart, with clarity and usability, benefit everyone.

How to design an accessible document

There are a number of things to consider when designing an accessible document, including:

  1. Typeface: Sans serif typefaces like Arial, Verdana or Calibri make letters appear less crowded. Stylised typefaces might look attractive, but are often difficult to read.
  2. Font size: Larger font sizes are easier to read. Fonts should be at least 12-point (at minimum), with 16-point recommended for large print documents. A good compromise for many documents is a 14-point font.
  3. Typographic emphasis: Underlined or italicised text can look crowded or run together. Using bold to emphasise words is a better choice.
  4. Spacing and alignment: Left-aligned documents are often easier to read than justified ones. Line spacing should be set to at least 1.5, and there should be adequate inter-word spacing. There should also be plenty of white space in the document, and page margins should be generous – at least 25mm.
  5. Contrast: There should be adequate contrast between the colour of the text and the background. Single colour backgrounds are best, with no patterns or images. Black text on a light coloured background is often best.
  6. Forms: If a document involves forms or activities that need to be filled in or signed, make sure there is plenty of space to account for a range of handwriting sizes.
  7. Structure: A consistent layout with clear, meaningful headings and subheadings make documents easier to navigate and understand.
  8. Audio: Where possible, offer an audio version of the written word and alternative text for graphics and images. This makes the document more accessible for those that are vision impaired.

The power of well-designed documents

Many elements of accessible, universal document design are subtle and won’t be noticed by many people who look at a document – even if they actually benefit from your document being easier to read and understand than others.

However, designing your documents with accessibility in mind will leave a positive, lasting impression on those people who do need them – and this might have great benefits for your business.

Find out more about accessible document design

Here at Dettori Publishing, we understand the importance of appealing to a wide audience to achieve the experience that your readers want.

This July, honour Disability Pride Month with us by considering the impact of how your document design encourages accessibility and inclusion across the spectrum of ability. Contact us to find out more about accessible design and how we can help you design documents that meet the needs of all your clients and readers.