yusylvia

Accessibility and Print

In Design Theory on February 17, 2010 at 8:45 am

When discussing accessibility, most people would think of the Internet. That is the natural response because of the widespread use of the web. The Internet is such a powerful tool that all individuals, with or without disability, should be able to make use of it. In fact, there are laws mandating all business websites must be accessible to all. However, this still seems to be a goal instead of reality: some websites are still not fully accessible. Wendy Chisholm, programmer and co-author of the popular book Universal Design for Web Application, recently was interviewed by Jeannie Yandel of KUOW and discussed the issue of accessibility. In college, Wendy Chisholm was assigned to tutor a blind student in his statistic class. This experience caused Chisholm to focus on developing software applications that are accessible to people in need. Her “goal is to make everything usable and effective for everyone. That means people who have disabilities, and people who don’t.” In the interview, Chisholm pointed out three things that need to happen in order to create total accessibility:

1. The technology of accessibility features must exist

2. A complete cultural shift — we need to keep in mind that people with disabilities are just like us, they have experiences and dreams and they should be able to enjoy things that other people do

3. People with disability should be involved in developments and designs so they can steer the designers toward the right direction in creating designs that are usable to them

This discussion led me to question what other design disciplines can we apply these same rules to. What about print, a more traditional form of communication? Can we make print more accessible? The answer is yes. Many publishers have already been creating large-print versions of the books for readers with vision disabilities. I also found a website called RNIB Supporting Blind and Partially Sighted People with a wealth of information about how to make our print designs more accessible. Some suggestions include using clear font at large size (14 points and higher), aligning text to the left, use consistent text layout with few effects or styles (bold, italics, etc.), do not overlay text on images, use uncoated substrates that are thick enough to eliminate show through, and more. This website also suggests using alternative media like audio, Braille, and alternative tactile formats. Other helpful information found on this website include eye health and the challenges that visually impaired people face in their daily lives, giving us helpful insights in how to improve the accessibility of our print designs.

Another website I found is called Booksquare which discusses the issues and events taking place in the publishing industry. One of the articles that I read was about ebooks. Now, I’m not sure if this is still considered print any more because it is digital after all. However, it is an alternative and it is becoming more and more popular. In the article, the author Kassia Krozser argued that designers spend too much time on formatting the digital version to mimic the layouts of the printed books, creating frustrations. In her opinion, ebook is a different format entirely and should be designed differently. I agree. All the electronic book readers (Kindle, the Nook, the Sony Reader and the iPhone) are all relatively small devices that offer a reading surface much smaller than a typical printed book. If we design the layouts the same way as printed, much awkward scrolling will be required on the readers’ part to read each page. Instead, we should create digital documents that can easily reflow to fit the smaller screens, and unnecessary images should be eliminated.

Something that I did not find during my research is making print accessible to users with disabilities other than sight. The sources that I found devoted all of the resources catering to people with limited vision, but what about people with mobile limitations? Application like Acrobat has auto scrolling feature that helps, but I have not been able to find much mentioning of effort in helping people with other disabilities.

As designers, we must design with our audience in mind, a focus that is sometimes referred to as human-centered design. In order for our work to succeed, it must be usable for the intended audience, with or without disabilities. “When we design for the extremes, the ones in the middle will take care of themselves.” This is a quote from the documentary Objectified that stuck in my mind. The more people our designs reach, the more successful they will be. If we only design for the people in the middle, we will lose the extremes. We must include the entire spectrum in our design and planning to make sure that we maximize our reach.

Sources:

http://booksquare.com/thoughts-on-print-fidelity-and-accessibility/

http://www.kuow.org/program.php?id=18043

http://www.rnib.org.uk

Objectified — by Gary Hustwit

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