Since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities, companies have incorporated guidelines into their websites for accessibility purposes. However, creating content that is ADA compliant goes beyond just the digital scope. Making your print materials accessible is now becoming a necessity as well.
Print materials can be both visually appealing and disability friendly when following a few simple guidelines. Have no fear, designers – you can still create beautiful collateral without compromising ADA compliance.
We’ve compiled a list of do’s and don’ts to help make your materials accessible. By following these guidelines, you can make your printed materials both beautiful and friendly to the millions of people who have a disability.
ADA Requirements for Effective Communication
To create the most effective form of communication in your print materials, use plain language. Plain language is a style of writing where messages are portrayed in a simple, straight-forward manner. As most projects begin within an organization, it is imperative to know your exact audience before you begin to write. However, this is even more apparent when trying to write in plain language because it allows the copywriter to write as effectively as possible. Typically, printed materials are written to the average targeted reader rather than for industry experts – so avoid using acronyms or jargon in your content.
Some more key takeaways when writing for printed materials that strive to be ADA compliant:
Messages should be kept short and sweet, and organized from most important subject matter to least important
Use headings to help the reader navigate the materials
Add pronouns such as “you” or “I” to pull the reader in
Avoid using a passive voice as it is typically not as shorter or direct as the active voice
Break your content into short, concise paragraphs for quicker reading
Stray away from complex words, legal terms and acronyms, or any unnecessary words for that matter
Incorporate visuals within the print material to break up text-heavy sections
Creating Accessible Visuals for People with Disabilities
Design, fonts and layout play an important role alongside communication when creating accessible print materials. There are several best practices to keep in mind:
Using Easy-To-Read Fonts
Fonts heavily impact readability if the wrong styles are used on printed materials. Traditionally, sans serif fonts such as Arial, Helvetica and Verdana are the most reader friendly. This is because their lines and textures are consistent with each letter, something that can vary from their serif or cursive counterparts. Serif fonts, such as Times New Roman, and cursive fonts incorporate a combination of thin and thick strokes that can be very difficult for a user to read. Consider avoiding fonts that are extra thin, extra bold or extra italicized. Larger font sizes, such as between 14 to 18-point, will be easier to read.
Text Alignment and Spacing
The easiest to read and most effective form of text alignment to read is left alignment. This is because the beginning of each line is consistent with one-another and easy for the reader to navigate. Center alignment and right alignment text can be distracting for a reader trying to skim through documents quickly. Fixed adjustment, although visually appealing at first glance, can cause uneven spacing between words. When choosing the proper spacing or leading between lines of text, allow for 1.5x or 2x spacing for readers to move their eyes from line to line with ease.
Finally, when it comes to text readability, white space is your friend if you are creating ADA compliant print materials. When incorporating white space in between areas of text, it is especially helpful for individuals with low vision or cognitive disabilities. It also allows for a natural separation between content and unrelated elements within a document.
Choosing the Right Colors
Choosing the right colors for your printed documents can help those with low vision or who are visually impaired, those who have age-related vision issues, or individuals with color blindness. There should always be a clear of contrast between light and dark within your design. When considering color, think of colors on opposing sides of the color wheel.
Colors can also be used to help readers navigate your printed documents. For example, labeling required fields in red with an asterisk (*) allows the user to identify where exactly information is required.
Print Paper Accessibility Guidelines
Certain printing papers can highly decrease readability for those with a disability. Avoid using traditional white printing paper or glossy, magazine paper if possible. These types of paper can cause glare for individuals who use tools such as a magnifying glass, video magnifier, digital reading aids or reading pens. Instead, use off-white paper with a matte finish that – if printed on both sides – has a 24lb thickness. This way, the printed content does not show through the other side when flipped, and readers can use reading-aid tools with ease.
Additional ADA Accessible Tips for Printed Materials
Avoid the use of hyphens when possible. This break in text can make reading more difficult.
Incorporate graphics or images within your printed materials to help break up large paragraphs of text
Do not put graphics behind text as this can be difficult to read
Add symbols of accessibility to your printed materials so readers know that they will be able to navigate the document or be able to ask for additional materials from your business or institution if available. This symbol of inclusivity can go a long way in forming brand reputation.
Alternative formats are highly recommended to be available if a reader requests them. Examples of these alternative formats are large print (18-point font), braille versions of print materials and audio versions of print materials.
Additional resources for creating visually accessible materials
Print materials can be both visually appealing and accessible when designed with inclusivity in mind. From using the proper fonts to incorporating complimentary, eye-catching colors, creating something that is easy to read for those with (or without) a disability is crucial in today’s business world.