Producing a publication is time-consuming and expensive. Make yours accessible to as many of your audience as possible to maximise on costs.
Download our guides to learn how you can use standard desktop applications to improve the accessibility of both your documents and the documents others produce for you.
Use fonts that maximise legibility and readability.
- Generally, use Arial or another sans serif font for electronic communications and Times New Roman for print.
- Density and complexity of font type can reduce font - look for a simple font that spaces letters out.
- Avoid italics, underlining, simulated handwriting, unusual shaped letters and decorative typefaces.
- Research your audience’s preferences - consider user-testing your font with a range of impairment and age groups.
14 point is best practice for older and disabled people. Using it means that there is no need to have a separate stock of large print documents. You should also be able to supply large print in various sizes above 14 point, on request.
Lighter type weights can affect legibility, as readability requires good contrast. Bold or semi-bold weights are recommended for material specifically for people with visual impairments - but check the font is still easy to read. Avoid using blocks of capital letters in titles or body text.
As a general rule, the space between one line of type and the next (the leading) should be 1.5 to 2 times the space between words on a line.
Align text left for maximum legibility. Avoid right aligning or justifying text.
Make sure numbers are distinct when printed. 3, 5 and 8 can be misread, as can 0 and 6 in some fonts. For financial information use a large point size.
Keep to between 60 and 70 characters, roughly 12 to 18 words, per line, (except for columns). Avoid using hyphens to split words between lines.
Design and layout
The best design is simple and uncluttered. Tints can be helpful to break up a document and make it easier on the eye, particularly for statistical material, graphs and charts. Make sure there is a strong contrast between text and tint.
Keep paragraphs short and use line spacing between paragraphs. Use wide margins and headings. Boxes can help emphasise or highlight important text.
Images can help communicate your messages. They also provide relief to the eye. Make sure you use alternative text to describe images, so that screen readers can recognise them.
On posters, boards and leaflets:
- keep the design simple
- avoid background graphics that make text difficult to read
- keep essential information, for example event details, grouped together
- use lower case rather than capitals.
Contrast dark type against a light background as a general rule. Black type on off-white or yellow paper gives a good contrast. Be aware that the colours red and green can cause problems for some people. Others find light text on a dark background difficult to read.
Reversing type (white out)
Some people prefer white text on a black background as it reduces glare from the page. If using white type, make sure that the background colour is dark enough to provide a good contrast. Note that:
- when printing it can sometimes be very difficult to provide dense ink coverage on coloured surfaces
- white text on a coloured background appears smaller - you may need to increase the font size and use a bold typeface
- switching between black on white and white on black can be confusing and tiring to the eye – try to avoid switching.
Using ‘Clear print’
‘Clear print’ is a way of designing and producing printed material that is particularly useful for people who have visual impairments or dyslexia. It is not the same as large print. As well as font size, the relationship between the visual height of characters and the surrounding white space, is important.
‘Clear print’ has production, storage, distribution and archiving cost implications. The Department for Communities and Local Government has estimated increasing type and leading size by two points on their publications will increase these costs by 15 per cent. However, using ‘Clear print’ will make your publications easier to read for everyone in your audience.
Publishing best practice checklist
- Produce all publications for the general public in 12 point in sans serif font.
- If your publication is aimed primarily at disabled people, producing it in 14 point will mean that a standard large print format isn't required. Make sure that larger sizes are available on request.
- Consider which fonts work best for your audience, referring to research.
- Provide accessible formats, such as large print and Easy Read on request or in advance if your target audience is mostly disabled people.
- Make publications available in other formats on request and within a reasonable timescale: for example, within a week for a text file and within four weeks for Easy Read.
- Consider using Easy Read for full accessibility, or for particular campaigns targeted at people with neurological conditions.
- Make sure that sections and chapters are clearly defined with headings.
- Write in Clear English and print in 'Clear Print'
- Keep headings and page numbers in the same place on each page.
- Include a contents page and consider including an index.
- Use white space, headings and rules to provide relief from text.
- Avoid fitting text around images if this means lines of text start in a different place.
- Set text horizontally, not on a slant.
- Allow plenty of space on forms. If details that have to be hand-written, make the boxes, including tick boxes, as large as possible.
- When setting text in columns, make sure the space between the columns clearly separates them.
- Use images to help convey your message and provide relief from text.
- Avoid putting pictures in the middle of columns, this can be confusing.
- Explain graphs or diagrams in words.
- If pictures are placed within boxes include a frame around the box to make it easy to locate.
- Illustrations should be line drawings with thick, dark strokes or outlines.
- Make illustrations and photographs as large as possible without being grainy. Don't lay one photograph over another.
- Don’t use photos that contain a lot of detail or in which the foreground and background are not well contrasted.
- Avoiding setting text over images.
- Use cream or off-white non-glossy paper to reduce glare.
- Use uncoated paper weighing over 90gsm (photocopy paper usually weighs 80gsm). If the text is showing through from the reverse side, the paper may be too thin.
- Very large or very small documents can be difficult to handle. A4 size is generally the most user-friendly.
- When folding paper, avoid creases that obscure the text. People who use scanners or screen magnifiers need to place the document flat under the magnifier, so take care about the number of pages in your document and the binding methods you choose.
- The binding method needs to be appropriate to the layout and the number of pages. For large documents, particularly large print formats, a ring-bound binding can help readability.
- Is the typeface 12 point or more?
- Does the text contrast clearly with the background?
- Are you using a clear typeface?
- Is there enough space between each line of type?
- Is there minimal use of words or sentences in capital letters?
- Are any numbers clear?
- Are whole words carried over to the next line rather than split between two lines?
- Is text aligned to the left margin rather than centred or justified?
- Are the gaps between words and letters even?
- Are there 60-70 characters per line? (less than this for columns)
- Is there enough space between columns?
- Is the page layout clear and unfussy?
- Are page numbers and headings in the same place on each page?
- Is there a contents list?
- Is there space between paragraphs?
- Is text set horizontally?
- Have you avoided setting text around illustrations?
- If the reader needs to write on the page, is there enough space?
- If there are images, are they clearly defined and easy to read?
- Are images clearly separated from the text?
- Is the paper matt? Is the page a size that is easy to handle?
- Do any folds cut or obscure the text?
- Can the document be flattened so that it can be placed under a scanner or screen magnifier?
The ‘Clear print’ guidelines were developed by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and other organisations.
The Easy Read format was created to help people with learning disabilities understand information easily. People with learning disabilities need access all information, not just disability-specific information but also about their health, voting, work and gaining skills.
The Office for Disability Issues, in association with the Department of Health, has produced new guidance to improve the standard of information for people with learning disabilities across government. Download it from the ‘Resources’ section below.
- Preparing accessible MS Word documents (PDF, 12 pages, 800 KB)
- Delivering technically accessible publications (PDF, 8 pages, 800 KB)
- Easy Read guidance: making written information easier to understand for people with learning disabilities (PDF, 40 pages, 626 KB)
Beyond the Office for Disability Issues
Page last reviewed: 06 December 2010