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Design Electronic and Print Resources with Access in Mind

Most victim service organizations provide a variety of resources such as brochures and websites for use by victims, colleagues, and community members. These resources should be designed to be accessible to the widest breadth of people, including victims and colleagues with disabilities. Whether materials are printed or available electronically, emphasizing the accessibility of these resources ensures that the most people possible can avail themselves of what these resources have to offer.

Print Materials 

Access for print materials involves many design considerations, such as font type and size, color choice and contrast, and the use of graphic elements. For example, avoid using a highly decorative font. Instead, use a sans-serif font type, such as Arial, Helvetica, and Calibri, in at least 14-point size. Avoid using all caps; a combination of upper and lowercase letters is generally easier to read for those with low vision. Spacing between words can also impact accessibility. For this reason, justify text lines on the left margin and avoid hyphenating words in a way that causes them to appear on two separate lines. When using color, be sure to use sufficiently contrasting colors. In terms of images, avoid layering text over photos.

The language used and organization of content can also impact accessibility. Using plain language enables you to meet the widest audience possible, and is accessible for people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities. Use common words and define any that may be unfamiliar to readers. Avoid or explain acronyms, jargon, and idioms. Write in short sentences that convey one idea and have no more than 15 words. Use active voice and avoid “if/then” sentences. In terms of document organization, clearly distinguish “need to know” information from “nice to know” information. Organize the information to serve the reader’s needs, such as putting the most important information at the beginning of the document. Use headers to identify new sections and topics. Create short bulleted lists. Supplement text with images and graphics.

Electronic Resources

Some people with disabilities rely on assistive technology to view electronic resources, including websites and electronic documents. Screen readers are a common type of assistive technology that can be used by people with low vision, people who are blind, or individuals with cognitive or intellectual disabilities to view electronic resources. A screen reader is a software application that attempts to identify and interpret what is displayed on the screen. The information is then conveyed to the user via a text-to-speech or Braille output device. However, electronic resources must be developed with accessibility in mind for the information to be conveyed accurately.

  • Electronic documents. Some screen readers are compatible with accessible PDF documents, some work with text documents, and some work with both. When distributing electronic materials, such as email attachments or via CD or USB, include documents in PDF and .doc or .txt formats or provide information on how to request alternative formats.
  • Accessible PDF documents. PDF documents are not inherently accessible. There are a number of factors to keep in mind when creating a PDF document. Two of the most important are adding tags to establish the reading order of the document, and using alt-text for images. Without tags, the reading order is unclear, particularly when the document includes columns, quotes using enlarged text, and tables. Tagging the blocks of text defines the intended reading order of the page. Images also cannot be interpreted by a screen reader, but this can be resolved through the use of alt-text, which is a text description of the image and can be conveyed by the screen reader to the user.
  • Website accessibility guidelines. Websites can be a valuable resource for people with disabilities, however many are not designed with access in mind. The following guidelines can increase the accessibility of websites. The tab order of the page should allow users to quickly navigate the site using only the table and enter keys. Every photo needs to have an alternative text description so that individuals using a screen reader or translator can understand the meaning behind the photo. All audio used on the page should either be captioned or have an accompanying script. As with print documents, every color used on the page should have sufficient contrast. Do not rely on colors as a visual indicator.

Resources You Can Use

  • Accessible Technology Index offers ADA guidelines around accessible technology.
  • Universal Design for Print MaterialsThis handout and corresponding presentation created by Stephanie Grey of Stephanie Grey Design reviews basic design and access considerations for print materials and provides visual examples of what works best and what doesn’t work.
  • Lighthouse International’s website has lots of resources including information on addressing color contrast for those with partial sight.
  • Mencap’s Make It Clear Guidelines is a great resource for writing in simple language, which is accessible for people with intellectual disabilities and enables you to meet the widest audience possible.
  • WebAIM has created an online guide on how to create accessible PDF documents, including how to convert other types of documents to PDF. For more detailed information, download Adobe’s Creating Accessible Adobe PDF Files.
  • Web Accessibility Initiative Website. The W3C website covers a variety of topics related to website accessibility, including accessibility basics and designing for inclusion, and provides information on a number of web accessibility evaluation tools including WAVE by WebAIM.