We are not SHOUTING or SCREAMING! Font sizes and accessibility
Recently I sent an email in a medium-large font to someone who thought I was shouting. The reply I received was disturbing. The person was offended and read the information as if I was angry. With one of my email accounts, I use a regular font for sending information to people who do not have a vision disability. In another email account, I have a larger font preset to make my email accessible to people with vision loss. I used the latter to send an email to a person with no difficulty with their vision. It is amazing the reaction some people have when seeing lettering in a slightly larger font.
I rapidly replied to the person explaining my position on font size. After receiving the explanation, the person was relieved. Understanding that this particular episode could happen again, I am considering placing some type of message at the bottom of my emails about the reasons for using a larger font size due to accessibility issues.
Fortunately, in this case, the person let me know her reaction to my email and I could quickly respond. In other cases, a person might just avoid me and I would have no idea what I did to disturb the relationship. Believe me when I say, if I want to send an angry email, the reader will have no doubts, and it will have nothing to do with font size. The issue about font size and why only certain font types are preferred when talking about accessibility, deserves another review on behalf of people with varying vision loss.
People who are blind use a screen reader. Screen readers can read basic paragraphs and are a whole other topic. This article is about meeting the needs of people who for whatever reason have a vision disability and can still read. The font size and type you choose to use when creating all sorts of documents is an easy way to make it accessible for people who have some type of vision loss but can still read.
With respect to fonts, Arial and Verdana regular (i.e., not italic) are considered the easiest to read, and both are free. Minimum font size should be no less than 12 points. The preference is 14 points. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) website provides simple Clear Print Accessibility Guidelines (PDF document) recommending 12 to 18 points, depending on your font type. Recommendations include:
- Use fonts with a medium heaviness
- Avoid light type with thin strokes
- Avoid artistic fonts
- Use bold type instead of italics for emphasis and resource references
The guidelines are quick to read and memorize. There are reasons for each recommendation and simple alternatives provided.
Documents that have not been written using accessibility rules, such as strong colour/tonal contrast, are also a problem. Use high colour/tonal contrast for text and backgrounds, for example, black or dark blue on a white or yellow background. You can also reverse the colours.
There are more recommendations when the discussion turns to other methods of sending your information. Other considerations for your emails include:
- Avoid using complicated backgrounds, designs and watermarks. Complicated backgrounds are often difficult to read for everyone, with or without a disability. Without these options, there are still beautiful methods to provide information
- Choose off-white to avoid glare. Bright white can cause glare, which can make information difficult to read for people with a variety of vision disabilities. Glare also causes eyes to get tired
- Use colours only in titles or highlighted information
- Avoid crowding your text
- Design simplicity is the key to success
The CNIB and other vision-loss associations around the world have proven research that aids all of us to have a good quality of life. Well, at this time, so much for improving quality of life until everyone becomes used to the idea that large fonts are not always SCREAMING!
If, you are concerned when reading an email, by all means, do the author a favour and politely ask about their intentions. You may find out the sender has read and adhered to these accessibility guidelines. If the person is truly angry then send them a copy of this article and let them know that font size is no longer an appropriate indicator of anger. What is your alternative when you are angry? Use words to express your anger. I am frustrated that in our communications something as simple as a larger font maybe misconstrued as an angry email.
For those of you who use font size to indicate anger, QUIT IT!
Suzanne Cohen Share, M.A., CEO
Access (SCS) Consulting Services o/b 623921 Ont. Ltd.