Designers and clients need educating on accessibility issues – to see them as a challenge and not a hindrance, says Keith Bamber
‘Inclusive’ and ‘accessible’: not the most exciting adjectives to motivate the design industry. The very words conjure up standardisation, mediocrity and design of the lowest common denominator.
After all, isn’t achieving good design a difficult enough task without having to worry about a peripheral audience, which has problems, in varying degrees, of interacting with your work? With design needing to achieve so much to satisfy clients’ requirements, how do we, as an industry, have time to think about a minority? Why should the few dictate to the majority?
First, that majority is getting smaller. By 2020, Government statistics project that 50 per cent of the UK population will be over 50 years old. Unfortunately, from my experience, they won’t have 20-20 vision.
Second, there is already a massive number of people in the UK who are affected by communication difficulties. Currently, it is estimated that around 10 per cent of the UK population are dyslexic, 4 per cent severely. And as many as one in five people are thought to have hidden differences affecting their abilities to process and understand information – all of which means that a lot of your hard work fails to reach many people.
Many designers have little or no understanding of these problems, particularly those faced by people with dyslexia. Design education has not focused on inclusivity or accessibility, and, in the commercial world, many organisations are unaware of, or not predisposed to deal with, ‘minority’ audiences.
However, there is a groundswell of opinion and action, which is now coming to the fore. Last month, we brought together a number of experts (including Professor Jeremy Myerson and Qona Rankin of the Royal College of Art, Ann Campbell and Kerry Bennett of Dyslexia Action, Kevin Thomson and Sally Hayward of Hidden Differences Group and ourselves) to look at ways to make inclusivity and accessibility more practical to designers (DW 5 October).
We debated a range of initiatives, from education (the RCA is leading the way) through to the development of dyslexic-friendly fonts and software solutions that enable people to alter the preferences of their computer screen. Clearly, the nature of the Web makes it easier to create more inclusive and accessible communication, while solutions for print-based design are more difficult to achieve – but they are far from insurmountable. As Myerson and Thomson forcefully put it, ‘If you design first for the minority, you include the majority.’ And this, I believe, is the strongest argument that we, as practitioners, should be putting forward to our clients and to our staff.
There will be occasions when it is difficult to include everybody. FTSE 100 companies will probably never follow Royal National Institute of the Blind guidelines when printing their annual reports, but they can offer on-line alternatives that use a dyslexia-friendly font or provide a readability tool bar to enable inclusivity and accessibility.
And, according to Hidden Differences’ research, only four out of the Fortune 500 companies have a ‘big button’ functionality that enlarges the text, while less than 20 per cent of UK companies comply with the law in making their websites accessible.
But rather than dwell on the negatives, I want to urge all designers to consider the positives. Design has to do a lot of different jobs. It has to attract attention, excite, engage and project a brand personality.
But most classic good design is inclusive. The simple ideas, whatever the design discipline, always seem to work and look the best. Effective design is founded on clarity. And now there are more accessible guidelines available, so you can engage your colleagues and clients in best practice, as well as, I hope, thought-provoking publications, such as our own Radar magazine.
We should not view inclusivity and accessibility as straightjackets to our creativity, but as positives that will challenge us to adopt new approaches and make us better designers.
If you haven’t already noticed, look at how many of the new design awards are for inclusion and accessibility. As an industry, we need to start designing for the ‘minority’. It’s better for everybody.
Keith Bamber is director of 35 Communications. He is also dyslexic
Useful Web Addresses:
Dyslexic-friendly fonts: www.readregular.com
Screen software: www.textic.com
Design guidelines: www.welladjusted.org.uk/get/commguide.pdf
Dyslexia Action: www. dyslexiaaction.org.uk