Printing For the Many, Not Just the Few

Why accessible print design is not something to overlook



Mark Davis


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Reading the printed word is something many of us take for granted day in day out. Whether we’re out shopping, travelling on public transport, or looking at our phones—we process vast amounts of information at fast speeds. But for some, reading is more of a challenge and accessibility to information remains limited. A simple trip to the supermarket, a browse in a bookshop, or engaging with a witty advert is much more arduous and stressful.


For several years, companies have been guilty of failing to make printed materials fully accessible to those with conditions such as dyslexia, colour blindness, ADHD, and early dementia (despite guidelines from professional bodies and governments on how to overcome these challenges being available for some time). As more of our interaction with the written word comes in the form of digital mediums, many designers and marketers have focused attention on making these channels more accessible, leaving print to one side. However, we still read menus in restaurants, glance at adverts on public transport, and look at signs whilst driving on the freeway—meaning that there is still a need to make print more accessible for those with disabilities or low literacy abilities. So, how do companies currently shape up?


What Does the Survey Say?

Generally speaking, companies do not fair all that well. A survey conducted in 2019 by Solo Press (an online print company part of the British Dyslexia Association Assured scheme) found that, out of the 622 companies surveyed, only 44% considered at least one accessibility issue when creating printed designs. More than half failed to consider accessibility needs related to conditions such as dyslexia, colour blindness, and early dementia, meaning that over half of all printed materials by British firms failed to recognize the accessibility needs of millions of people in the UK.


Example of an A3-Sized Poster with Accessible Print Design
Source: Solo Press


Why Are Businesses Ignoring Accessibility?

The survey asked businesses why they had failed to consider aspects of accessibility in their printed design. Almost half of those asked said they simply do not think about it, and 43% said that those demographics are not their main target audience. Thankfully, only 1% said that it takes too much time and money—a poor excuse with no real merit at all. Solo Press research found that, on average, making print materials accessible costs less than £100 for over 70% of all projects. Overall, it seems that businesses are not necessarily ignoring accessibility in their designs but need to make more of a conscious effort to make sure guidelines are followed and executed in approved designs. For those companies that do follow accessibility guidelines, it seemed that their main reason for doing so was to make their materials as accessible as possible (72%). This is a positive result, as it is no longer relevant to consider accessibility to just be seen as “forward-thinking”. Accessibility should be a prerequisite in all company outlooks, with particular emphasis on making sure printed materials can be utilized by everyone.


What’s Changing?

As awareness grows around the need for accessible design, so too does the link between digital solutions to aid accessibility in print. Organizations in a number of countries, including the British Dyslexia Association (BDA) in the UK and the America Dyslexia Association (ADA) in the US, provide templates and best practice guidelines for companies to use as part of their print designs. As part of these guidelines, companies are also encouraged to use fonts without additional serifs in crucial messaging, increase font sizes across the board, and introduce clear heading hierarchies so that it is easier to visualize importance from the structure of the text. The quick response (QR) code saw a resurgence in use at the height of the pandemic, and now designers are using it to link audiences to audio or visual recordings of written text, making it easier for those with accessibility issues to engage with the messaging.


Keypoint Intelligence Opinion

Although companies are starting to think about how their printed materials can be made more accessible, more needs to be done to make print a medium everyone can enjoy and use to its full potential. The resources for achieving acceptable levels of accessibility are available—particularly in the form of digital assets such as design aids and guidelines.


Companies need to make more of a concerted effort to increase levels of accessibility among those who require more support with the written word. It is no longer an acceptable excuse to say that thought to accessibility was not given in the design phase of a piece of print. Workflows need to reflect a mainstream approach to accessibility instead of considering it as an after-thought.


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