Understanding typefaces for accessibility

Example of typefaces images.
Image courtesy Medium

More people have difficulty reading than most people think. Low vision, dyslexia, low literacy, and learning disabilities are some of the reasons. Previous posts have covered the topic of plain language and Easy Read. But choosing the right typeface is also important for communicating successfully. Without understanding typefaces, things like colour contrast will make little difference. 

Gareth Ford Williams explains key elements in his article. He says claims of some typefaces being more accessible than others are not backed up by evidence. 

lower case 'i' and upper case 'L' and '1' look the same.
Gill Sans upper case ‘i’, lower case ‘L’ and ‘1’

Different typefaces provide different styles in how letters are formed. For example, Gill Sans upper case ‘i’ and lower case ”l’ and ‘1’ look the same. However, in Verdana they are distinct from each other. 

Mirroring is something than young children do. For example, muddling ‘b’ and ‘d’ and ‘p’ and ‘q’. However, the letter flipping effect can be lifelong. 

Spacing or ‘visual crowding’ is another consideration. Some typefaces have the same space between letters regardless of letter width. Helvetica is one example. Calibri has different spacing between letters. A wide letter like m has more space around it than an i or a t. In some cases the letters can look joined up such as ‘ol’ or ‘vv’. Tight letter spacing is not great for people with good vision either. 

The article has several good examples to illustrate points made. The title is, A Guide to Understanding What Makes a Typeface Accessible. Williams makes the point that there is no one right typeface. As always, it depends on your audience. However, this article provides great insights into yet another aspect of communicating accessibly. The article is technical in some places.

Thanks to Dawn Campbell on Linked In for alerting me to this article.

Beyond compliance with occupational therapists

A graphic depicting aspects of rules, right and wrong, and tick boxes. Going beyond compliance with occupational therapists.Accessible built environment advisors and practitioners know that it’s an uphill battle to get clients to go beyond compliance. However, if the client agrees, it might be time to go beyond compliance with occupational therapists. 

Occupational therapists (OTs) and universal design have much in common, say James Lenker and Brittany Perez. In their paper they argue the case for including the skills and knowledge of OTs across the spectrum of design disciplines and in research activities. Inter-disciplinary collaboration is the key.

The title of the Lenker and Perez article is, The role of occupational therapists in universal design research. This three page paper is easy to read and promotes the importance of collaboration for the best universal design outcomes.

OTs are involved in home modifications, but rarely considered in the public domain. They hold key information about how our minds and bodies interact with the built environment. So they can sometimes bring new solutions to the table with universal design. 

Guide for OTs on universal design

Apeksha Gohil has devised a universal design guide for OTs. The aim of the guide is for OT practitioners to offer universal design solutions. The guide is a three stage stepwise process to reach universal design solutions beyond compliance and prescriptive standards. 

Graphic of a handshake with purple hands. The hands have words on them such as cooperate and connect

Gohil agrees that stakeholders are primarily interested in what is required by the law. However, it is important to create awareness about user participation and co-design a part of the design process. One of the aims of the guide is to create awareness about role of OTs in universal design and create best practice examples. 

The Universal Design Consultation Guide for Occupational Therapy Practitioners is structured as a step by step guide. The document is available on ResearchGate, or you can download directly as a PDF document

You can also find out more from Elizabeth Ainsworth and Desleigh de Jonge about the relevance and application of universal design in occupational therapy practice on the ResearchGate website. 

 

Guide for body shape and size

A page from the Guide for body shape and size.How much do our body shapes and sizes differ? A lot. But if you only know a few different shapes and sizes, how will you know if your design is inclusive? A guide for body shape and size is a useful reference.

The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland has a set of information sheets on body shape and size. They guide designers in how to apply these factors in their work to achieve more universally designed products and services.

The overview of the guideline project explains the importance of considering body shape and size in designs. For governments and other institutions it helps with the selection and procurement of everyday products such as street furniture. Designing for the extremes of body shape and size affords extra convenience for all users. It also helps avoid user discomfort, embarrassment and even harm. There are five fact sheets

A related academic paper from 2014 takes body size and shape further and applies it to mobility devices. The guide to the circulation requirements for various wheeled mobility devices is from Denmark. It includes research on the spatial needs for parking as well as toilets and building entries as well as accessible paths of travel.

Charts with dimensions of the various mobility types is included and includes tables for children and the bariatric population. The guide also discusses the need to think to the future of mobility devices and not assume that the size and styles will remain the same. 

What does Co-design mean? How does it work?

Two men look at a document. One is a doctor the other is a patient. The term co-design is being used more frequently, but what does co-design mean and how does it work? Well, that depends on the context. It could mean a design group working together. Nothing difficult about that concept. Or it could mean involving end users in the design process. This is where it gets more tricky and more questions arise.

At what point do you involve users? Which users do you involve? Will the users have the required knowledge and experience to contribute constructively? Will designers have the skills to be inclusive and listen to users? Participatory action research incorporates both designer and user learning. But these projects are necessarily long and usually have research funding attached. However, they usually produce knowledge and results useful in other settings. 

A related concept is co-design in quality improvement, for example, in a hospital setting. Both staff and patients have a role to play in advancing quality improvement. Differing levels of understanding between staff and patients can lead to tokenism. So how can we equalise knowledge so that everyone’s contribution is constructive? 

A research team in a Brisbane hospital grappled with this issue. Their research report is written in academic language and not easy to read. Nevertheless, they conclude that effective patient-staff partnerships require specific skills. Briefly, it means adapting to change, and generating new knowledge for continuous improvement.

A framework

The researches developed a framework that includes ten capabilities under three key headings. 

Diagram of the Co-design Framework.

 

    1. Personal attributes:
      • Dedicated to improving healthcare
      • Self-aware and reflective
      • Confident and flexible

2. Relationships and communication attributes:

      • Working and learning as a team
      • Collaborating and communicating
      • Advocating for everyone

3. Philosophies/Models:

      • Organisational systems & policy
      • Patient and public involvement best practice
      • Quality improvement principles.

These nine points are connected with the overarching theme of sharing power and leadership.

Title of the article is, “Co-produced capability framework for successful patient and staff partnerships in healthcare quality improvement: results of a scoping review”.

Other posts on co-design include The right to participate and co-design, and Co-design is another skill set

How might we design…

Howe might we.design. An abstract pattern of muted blue and orange squares of different sizes.The “How might we” design prompt is outdated. It might generate innovative ideas, but it leaves some design gaps. And who is the “we” in how might we? It’s the people in the room not the users or customers. Consequently, it risks making biases and assumptions invisible. The prompt tends to look inward instead of outward. This is the view of Tricia Wang in her blog post. 

Wang explains the prompt was originally meant to shift designers to think outside the box. But this open-minded problem-solving approach is no longer suited concepts of diversity and inclusion. This is particularly the case when the design team lacks diversity. 

Wang discusses how designs lack gender balance and how design reflects the needs of those in positions of power. When it comes to user-centred design, “sticking ‘how might we’ in front of a wicked problem is not useful”. The article has several examples that support her argument. 

A replacement for ‘how might we’ is ‘Who should we talk to?’  and ‘Why are we doing this?’ Wang explains:

WSW: Who should we talk to? This prompt explicitly recognizes that there are people outside the room who should be considered and consulted.

WAW: Why are we doing this? This prompt forces some level of introspection for team members. It is still somewhat internally focused, but makes designers examine their true motives.

The title of the FastCompany article is, The most popular design thinking strategy is BS

Cover of the book Inclusive design toolkitA different approach is to check out the statistics on how may people are potentially excluded from a design.

 

Inclusive Design Toolkit for designers

five members of the inclusive design group stand behind a table with the toolkit displayed. Each person is holding a card with a word. The words spell out 10 years inclusive design toolkit.
Left to right: Joy Goodman-Deane, Sam Waller, Mike Bradley, Ian Hosking, and John Clarkson.

The Inclusive Design Toolkit has proved to be an invaluable tool for designers since it’s inception in 2007. The updated version includes the exclusion calculator which shows how many potential users might be excluded. This makes it a great toolkit for designers in any field.

The news bulletin from the Engineering Design Centre that produces the Toolkit and other resources has information on:

    • The tenth anniversary of the Inclusive Design Toolkit and what has been achieved in that time.
    • New exclusion calculator for better assessment for vision and dexterity.
    • E-commerce image guidelines for mobile phone viewing.
    • Impairment simulator software for vision and hearing is now very handy for showing how vision impairments look and sound.

Cover of the book Inclusive design toolkitThe Engineering Design Centre has made great progress in inclusive design. It began by working with business to show the benefits of including as many people as possible in the design. The design team continue to break new ground keeping users at the centre of the process

An article in the Inclusive Design Toolkit Bulletin explains how a student redesigned the chip packet for easier opening. A beer and a packet of chips is a simple pleasure for most. But if you can’t open the chip packet then not so pleasurable. This is a problem for more people than you might think. 

Two gadgets to help designers, gloves and glasses, are available. Using a pack of Post-it Notes, Sam Waller demonstrates in the video below how many people will find it impossible to remove the cellophane wrapping. A good example of including people with low vision and/or arthritis is good for everyone and increases market size.

 

Tool for overcoming bias in design

A magnifying glass is held over a grid montage of human faces. Overcoming bias in design.Everyone has a bias. Our biases can lead us to fall into the traps that lead to unintended barriers or inconveniences for users. Recognising biases in our outlook is the key to countering them in design processes. Airbnb Design has a tool for overcoming bias in design. 

It’s a human trait to hold on to initial evidence more strongly than information we gather later on. Then we fit our interpretation of the world to match that initial evidence, regardless of what else we might learn as time passes. This can prevent the process of designing inclusively.

Airbnb Design partnered with journalists from News Deeply and came up with a toolkit for designers. Another Lens is a research tool for conscientious creatives. “We believe that both designers and journalists have the responsibility to shine a light on their bias by asking the right questions, seeking conflicting viewpoints, and expanding their lens to build inclusive, global solutions”.  

Three principles underpin the thinking process: balance your bias, consider the opposite and embrace a growth mindset. All good principles for universal design thinking. The website tool is simple to use, poses critical questions and provides the thinking behind it. You can find out more on the development of this tool from the Fastcodesign website article.

It’s the way the brain processes things

A globe atlas of the world sits on a desk and lined up in front are small dolls representing different countriesDr Belina Liddell argues that culture may affect the way your brain processes everything. And that is important. The term “culture” is a very complex web of dynamic systems – beliefs, language and values, and also religion, socio-economic status and gender may play a part too.

Liddel explains how culture makes a difference to the way we not only perceive things intellectually, but visually as well. All this is from the emerging field of cultural neuroscience.  Now we have new acronym to deal with, WEIRD – Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic. The article also discusses refugee populations. See the ABC science website for more on this interesting article. 

 

Accessibility with help from Standards

The ISO Guide 71 eleven goals of accessibility.
Slide showing the 11 accessibility goals.

Who wants to refer to the instruction manual if they can avoid it?  In the same way, standards documents get overlooked unless it’s mandatory to comply. But there is one standards document that is worth looking at. It can help us progress accessibility and universal design. On day two of UD2021 Conference, Emily Steel explained how the international accessibility standard works. 

Emily Steel pointing to the 11 Goals of the Guide on the presentation slide.
Emily Steel with the 11 Goals of the Guide.

The international standard has done all the thinking for us. The document guides standards committees as they write and update standards for their specific industry or profession. It is also useful for any committee developing guides or standards for accessibility and universal design. So, we don’t have to re-invent the wheel. 

The Guide’s use of the the term “accessibility” relates closely to universal design. “The extent to which products, systems, services, environments and facilities can be used by people from a population with the widest range of characteristics and capabilities to achieve a specified goal in a specified context of use”. 

The Guide has two main parts. The first describes user needs and 11 accessibility goals. These are similar to the 8 Goals of Universal Design. The second describes human characteristics and abilities, and design considerations. 

Guide 71 was adapted by the European standards authority and is titled, CEN-CENLEC Guide 6. It is basically the same information. You can see a previous post about this document. 

There is also an Accessibility Masterlist by Gregg Vanderheiden. It’s a collaborative resource for understanding access features in digital applications. Also worth a look.

All standards should ensure they meet the goals of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Guide 71 shows how to do this.

 

European universal design standard

Front cover of the Design for All standard.Universal design is a design thinking process so a universal design standard is a contradiction in terms. Standards are fixed where universal design is a continuous improvement process. However, where designers cannot grasp the concept of an inclusive thinking process, a set of design directions is needed. Hence a new European universal design standard for products, goods and services.

The standard sets out requirements and recommendations for extending the customer base for products and services. It’s for organisations that design and manufacture products and/or provide services. The aim is to ensure products and services are available to the widest range of users possible.

Diverse user needs, characteristics, capabilities and preferences area all covered. It is based on processes of user involvement and building on accessibility knowledge. The standard can also be used for complying with legislation and to advance corporate social responsibility. 

The standard was developed by Ireland’s National Disability Authority that houses the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design. The document has the title “design for all” which is a recognised European term, but notes that universal design, barrier-free-design and transgenerational design are the same thing. 

Design for All – Accessibility following a Design for All approach in products, goods and services – Extending the range of users can be purchased from the standards authority

There is a media release explaining a little more. 

Personas for digital technology

12 Faces representing the 12 personas.There’s nothing like asking potential users what they think of a new product. Even better if you involve them in the design process. But sometimes it’s not possible and designers resort to personas. This is often the case in digital technology. The Inclusive Design Toolkit has a suite of 12 personas representing a broad view of potential users. Each one has a story to tell about their lifestyle and their connection to technology.

Many factors affect digital exclusion: prior experience, competence, motivation and general attitude about technology. The personas highlight these factors to make it easier for designers to be inclusive. Each persona has a description of their lifestyle, competency with technology, and physical and sensory capabilities. 

The online resource is part of the Inclusive Design Toolkit with the option to download a PDF. You can take a deeper dive into the personas as a family set. This takes personas one step further by introducing family interactions. The Inclusive Design Toolkit also has an exclusion calculator that estimates the number of people unable to use a product or service. 

Cover of the book Inclusive design toolkitThe Inclusive Design Toolkit is based on thorough research over more than ten years. The personas were produced as part of a project to improve the inclusivity of railway journeys. 

The team wrote a conference paper about using personas for product development. They assessed the task of carrying a tray of food across a cafe, taking into account how using mobility aids restricts hand use. The title of the paper is, Evaluating inclusivity using quantitative personas. The full paper is available by request from ResearchGate.