Font Choice: A Graphic Designer’s Awakening After Discovering Her Daughter’s ADA Needs
I've been in the marketing and graphic design space for more years than I'd like to admit. Font, color, and graphic choices are decisions I get excited to make. Each one can portray just the right message or emotion.
But that is for able-bodied (or able-seeing) individuals.
After discovering a severe visual impairment in my then 12-year-old daughter, I was forced to view things differently. Her default font choice of Comic Sans was now making more sense. Her eyes don't work together. They both work, just not together. This causes a number of visual issues, the two primaries being linear tracking and depth perception. Some of her symptoms are very similar to dyslexia.
I may or may not have broken down in tears after discovering this.
As a high-achiever and problem solver, I immediately tried to figure out how to help her. Here are a few things I’ve discovered.
There are fonts specifically for individuals with dyslexia. One is called Dyslexie. The weight of each letter (if you were writing by hand, where would most of the ink go) and specialty kerning (space between letters) are specifically designed to help the reader track from left to right.
My husband and I worked with our local school district to install this font on her computer operating system. This has dramatically improved her ability to focus in school.
Further proof of the proper font’s power? Over lunch a few months later, I showed Dyslexie to a high school friend. He was diagnosed our senior year with dyslexia, far too late for anything to be done. His reaction was priceless and heartbreaking. He stated he could actually read the words on my phone. How heartbreaking that his diagnosis was found so late in our schooling?
A Little About Fonts
There are two primary font types: serif and sans serif. Each one has a standard use and is most likely to be chosen by individuals in a work setting.
A traditional serif font is Times New Roman. Others include Garamond, Baskerville, Georgia, and Courier New. These are to be used when information is printed. The addition of the serif is intended to aid the reader as they track across a page.
Sans Serif fonts are intended for digital applications. The most common are Helvetica, Arial, Tahoma, or Verdana. Currently, my go-to fonts are Calibri or Work Sans.
I know what you’re thinking…but what about the script fonts? These make great accent fonts, but if your goal is not to distract your decision maker, or to accommodate an individual with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, it is best to stay away from those. Leave those to the font junkies like myself.
The Future of Fonts
As our society continues to push a technology first world, there are some huge advantages for individuals with visual impairments. Tech giant Google recently worked with education systems to develop a reading-level-based font. It is called Lexend. This revolutionary tool has the ability to improve reading levels.
Beyond Font Choice
Specialty fonts aren’t the only tools available. There are text-to-speech applications available on just about any device.
There is a catch.
If you’re designing a presentation or proposal, be sure to use fonts most likely to be read by these apps. Sans serif, tall fonts are the preferred option. You never know if the person you’re creating a proposal for will be utilizing one of these or not.
Creating an ADA-friendly Culture
As you can imagine, this topic has become important for my husband and I. Do you know if the people in your working ecosystem have visual impairments or learning disabilities?
A couple of weeks ago, my husband was reviewing a contract for his boss. He came across a number of grammatical issues. After a pause and recollection of the week’s interactions, he turned to her and asked if she was dyslexic. She was immediately taken aback by his question. She’d thought she’d hidden it so well.
Now the question I ask is this, why should a high-functioning, successful business owner feel the need to hide this about herself?
The obvious answer is bias.
My question to you now is, how will you create a culture where girls like my daughter, men like my high school friend, and women like my husband’s boss can all feel comfortable and confident in their daily activities?
Use the proper font in the proper application – Serif fonts for print, sans serif fonts for digital applications
There are numerous text-to-speech applications available for those that need them. San serif fonts work best for those apps
Know your audience. If someone has an impairment, do what you can to accommodate them
Create a culture that allows people to function best, where they are comfortable speaking freely about their needs
Jessica Morgan is a solopreneur and owner of WSD Services, a full-service marketing and graphic design agency. As a consultant, Jessica serves clients where their greatest needs are. Website copy, landing pages, social media, and graphic design fill most of her workload. She specializes in brand development and management. “I love helping small businesses find who they are as a brand!” She has worked in industries ranging from minor league baseball, telemedicine, home services, and outdoor recreation. Currently, WSD Services specializes in web design for small businesses and overall communication support for clients in the corporate training and human performance space.
She can be reached via her LinkedIn profile and her digital portfolio.