Globally, at least 2.2 billion people have a vision impairment.
In the United States, approximately 12 million people 40-years-old and over have a vision impairment, including 1 million who are blind.
It’s estimated that as many as 15-20% of the U.S. population has some symptoms of dyslexia, a neurological, often inherited, learning disorder.
As designers and communicators, we can use fonts that help people who struggle to read, including those with vision impairments and dyslexia. Consider a typeface for your next project that follows industry findings.
What makes a typeface readable?
Choosing a font that fits a brand, offers a variety of weights, and has optimum legibility can be a challenging task. With thousands of fonts available, how can you work to improve readability for more users?
A typeface with strong character recognition helps with legibility and aids in readability.
Here are qualities to avoid when selecting a font:
- Characters that can be commonly confused are the capital letter “I” (eye), lowercase letter “i” (eye), lowercase letter “l” (el), and the number “1” (one).
- A closed aperture “C” (cee) can sometimes look like an “O” (oh).
- The number “8” (eight) and the uppercase “B” (bee) can look similar.
- The combination of “r” and “n” can be confused for an “m” (em).
- Sometimes a lowercase “p” (pee) can be confused with a lowercase “q” (que).
- A lowercase “a” with a full circular shape can easily be confused with the “o”.
Here are font qualities to look for:
- Numbers need to be distinctive, in particular, the number “0” (zero) from the uppercase letter “O” (oh). The “6” and “9” should also have open terminals (the end of any stroke that doesn’t have a serif).
- Look for a serif on the lowercase “i” or a larger Tittle (dot), as this also helps to differentiate it from the uppercase “I”, especially at smaller screen sizes.
- A wider through-bar (cross stroke) on the lowercase “t” aids definition.
- A tail that follows through the main bowl on a capital “Q” tail enhances legibility.
- Look for a two-tiered lowercase “a” to eliminate confusion with an “o.”
- There is an optimal ratio between the x-height and the stroke width. To achieve maximum legibility the character stem stroke should be 17–20% of the x-height.
- Spacing between the letterforms should be evenly balanced and rhythmic to aid character recognition.
A call for accessible fonts
There are ongoing efforts in font design to aid readers.
In 1995 Vincent Connare designed Comic Sans for Microsoft. This friendly font was designed for a beta version of Microsoft Bob, a comic software package primarily for young users. For all the ribbing it receives, Comic Sans has qualities that actually aid in reading. Angela Riechers wrote about it in her 2016 article for AIGA Eye on Design, Comic Sans Might Just be the Best Font for People with Dyslexia.
In 2015 Christian Boer, a graphic designer who lives with dyslexia created a font for his graduation project. Dyslexie is a typeface developed to help people with dyslexia. You can hear more about the story from his 2015 TEDx talk.
Here are a few more fonts designed with readers with dyslexia or visual impairments in mind:
Accessible fonts are not mandated by the government but are slowly being evaluated and used more every day. Currently, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 does not specify requirements for choosing an accessible website typeface. However, the U.S. Web Design System recommends Source Sans Pro, Merriweather, Public Sans, and Roboto Mono because they emphasize legibility.
We chose Chivo for our website typeface because of its readability and brand aesthetics. While having friendly and honest-feeling attributes, Chivo’s optimal x-height ratio and bold font options met our high-standard reading qualities and made it a great fit for our brand.
Remember that accessible design should not mean a compromise in style. A well-designed typeface can be elegant, convey personality, and have legibility at its core. It is time to design with inclusion in mind.