RNIB publishes guidelines for accessible design

The Royal National Institute of the Blind is launching a set of guidelines specifically for the design industry, aiming to encourage designers to produce material that is legible by people with sight problems.

See it Right is being published as a book, CD-ROM and DVD and will be targeted at people working across the design process – from consultancies and commissioners to teachers and public relations agencies.

The RNIB claims that businesses potentially exclude about two million people when their communications are not designed for the partially sighted. ‘From a purely business perspective, companies need to reach this growing group. This is about the principles of good design and inclusive design,’ says RNIB head of external relations Ciara Smyth.

A 140-page book offers guidelines for producing accessible design across print, audio, Braille, digital and signage. In terms of print design, it says that there are a number of basic factors designers should always consider. These include using suitable contrast (essentially dark print on a light background), using type of at least 14 point and avoiding complicated typefaces.

‘For example, caps type can be difficult to distinguish for people with very poor eyesight as they will normally recognise the shapes of words,’ adds Smyth.

Although adhering to these guidelines will produce material legible to a wider number of users, Smyth does acknowledge that it can also impact on what designers may do. ‘It will affect the design process. A clearer typeface at a larger font size will affect how much information you can get in a leaflet, for example. But if you’re aiming to reach the largest number of people, you need to take it into account,’ she says.

Michael Wolff, founder of Michael Wolff & Company, also acknowledges that some designers might resist adopting fully accessible formats. ‘Designers may think that producing information in an accessible format means it compromises creativity. But making information accessible is actually an exciting challenge for designers and opens up a whole new market to them,’ he says.

About half the population is forecast to be over 50 by 2020 and brands will need to continue to communicate with consumers as they age, says Peter Mills, creative partner at The Team. ‘This is not just a nice thing to do or a fringe activity; people will want their brands to adapt to their age and requirements. Mass consumerism and messaging need to think about this,’ says Mills.

Although the RNIB will be promoting its guide to consultancies, design commissioners and colleges, Mills hopes that it will be consumers who drive change. ‘Hopefully, consumers will start to demand this, although there will also be some enlightened organisations in the design world,’ he says.

There are also legal obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act and Disability Equality Duty for organisations and businesses to produce accessible information. ‘A lot of designers are nervous about [legislative requirements] and See it Right is a really simple, easy to use set of guidelines for them,’ adds Smyth.

• Each day 100 people will start to lose their sight, according to the RNIB
• Guide for designers is available in print, Braille and audio CD for £30
• Print version is designed in-house at RNIB by Ian Roberts
• See www.rnib.org.uk for more information

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