Beyond Big Type set to raise accessible design awareness

Beyond Big Type
Examples of pictograms and typographical cards used during previous Beyond Big Type workshops

The Beyond Big Type conference, to be held in London next month, will reveal the latest thinking about accessible design including examples of best practice, new technology and responses to the 2010 Equality Act, which came into force last October.

Speakers at the event, which is run by Wire Design and the Employers’ Forum on Disability, will include Stephen Frost, head of diversity and inclusion at the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and Jonathan Hassell, BBC Future Media & Technology head of usability and accessibility.

It is not just the Equality Act that has driven designers to make accessibility a priority.

Simon Minty, director of equality training consultancy Sminty and chairman of Beyond Big Type, suggests that an awareness of disabled people’s £80bn spending power and a general culture shift has changed designers’ attitudes since the conference was set up in 2005.

Minty says, ’There’s not just the legal-type motivation any more. Thinking about accessible design has become cooler, interesting and, dare I say it, sexy.’

However, Wire Design director John Corcoran says, ’Most designers can see [accessibility] as a restriction on creativity, but we want to focus on the positives and emphasise that it can lead to innovation.’

According to Corcoran, part of the reason why accessible design is seen as limiting is because of clients and designers’ misuse of guidelines such as See It Right issued by the RNIB – which suggests the use of 14-point type – as a checklist, rather than thinking creatively about how to make design work accessible to everyone.

Corcoran adds, ’I don’t think it’s just the fault of the designers. Clients don’t commit to fully understanding their own audience.’

The conference will include information about sourcing data about the type of disabilities found in different demographics and workshopping with disabled people to talk about their needs, both as clients, employees and customers.

But, Corcoran argues, the key principles of accessible design will not be unfamiliar to most designers. Impact, logic, emotional engagement, clarity, focus and creating a full sensory experience are all elements that will make design and communication materials easier to use by disabled people, he says.

Corcoran holds up Apple, Dieter Rams and The Guardian as key proponents of accessible design through their straightforward approach. Apple products tend to have simple, logical interfaces and Rams’ ten principles ensure that objects are beautiful but that nothing is gratuitous, he adds. The Guardian’s principles of strong hierarchy and layering, he adds, could just as easily be used for books, retail and the built environment.

In the digital sphere, customisation is key, says Employers’ Forum on Disability senior disability consultant Brendan Roach. Designers have a responsibility to code sites so that people can gain information as they like it, whether that entails enlarging type or using assistive technology, such as speech readers, he says.

It is in this respect that Apple is also a leader, ensuring that its third-party app developers deliver the same standards of accessibility. The price of speech-reading apps, such as Web Reader, as opposed to more than £900 for a machine, is also opening up the Web to disabled people. Roach says, ’Technology can be a massive barrier, but once accessible it can be incredibly liberating.’

The Beyond Big Type conference takes place on 14 April at the National Audit Office, Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1.

Disability thinking

  • The Equality Act 2010 became law in October 2010 and replaced 116 pieces of legislation, including the Disability Discrimination Act
  • One in three people in the UK has some kind of disability or long-standing health problem, or is close to someone who has
  • At 30 per cent, the poverty rate for disabled adults in the UK is twice that for non-disabled adults

Latest articles