Episode 14-Font Choices
0-0:13 Orthotonics Accessible as Gravity plays and fades out
0:14 Hello and welcome to Accessagogy a podcast about accessibility and pedagogy. I’m your host Ann Gagné and this podcast is recorded on land covered by the Upper Canada Treaties and within land protected by the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Agreement, which is the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples.
0:36 Welcome to episode fourteen. In this episode I want to explore fonts and the kinds of font choices that are made in publishing books, resources, and things on the web. This idea will also continue in the next episode of the podcast when I talk about ableism in academic publishing. But for today’s episode I want to talk about how fonts are chosen and how some fonts can be distracting and even inaccessible to readers and not work with some accessible and assistive technologies.
1:10 The origin of this thought process for this episode came when I was reading a book about equitable teaching a few weeks ago. I was excited to read the book because many people had told me how great this book was and I just I wanted to see for myself. So as is very usual for pedagogical books, this book was very US focused and as someone reading it from outside the United States not a lot resonated with me actually and it really didn’t provide anything new that I hadn’t encountered in other spaces. But now I can say I read it.
1:46 But what I did do and what was new that had me thinking, was the use of different fonts in the book. So this was one of those books where most of the folk that have been engaging with it and have you know got it and read it are probably reading it as e-text. And this is because the e-text is free as long as of course you give your information and data away to the publisher. And so since I’m not a big fan of that, I actually bought the hard copy and paid more because of Canada US exchange rates are horrible and then there also was shipping.
2:26 So I opened the book and encountered about 3 to 4 different types of fonts in the first few pages. It went from a clean sans-serif font for the Introduction to a serif Times New Roman font for the introduction to the first section, and then it went back to a sans-serif font for the first chapter, but then there were like serif fonts in these boxes inside the chapter that would provide more information, or provide some reflection points, or reflection questions or if there were words that needed to be defined, so all of those were done in serif fonts. Then some of the emphasis that was in the chapter, if there was something that the authors wanted to emphasize, that was done in italics.
3:18 So I will stop here to say I’m not a typographer, but I do love studying fonts very much. I’m the type of person that will email someone to say, hey I really loved your talk can you tell me what font you used on your slides – this is also a great way to remind people that they should have shared their slides or some kind of resource with you after the talk or before the talk.
3:43 I’m always looking for fonts that to me read as clear both in print and on screen. And I will say the font choices in this book were extremely distracting; like so much so that it made me want to stop reading and never return to this book, many times. And I have never encountered this feeling before, I have read a lot of books in my life and never has the font made me want to stop reading a book. It was very strange. So I wanted to open up this space to have a conversation about fonts and how different modalities of sharing information mean that we also have to think about the different fonts that are used.
4:21 As noted previously, I think one of the things that’s going on here is that this book was formatted to be more legible or accessible as an e-text and so they didn’t think about how that would translate to the printed text because I feel that a lot of people are just not buying the printed text because why would you if they are giving you the etext for free.
4:41 Of course there are publishing house choices and some of the authors have no say in these things, right? So but as people in higher education spaces I think it is important for us to have these conversations about how font choice can be a barrier to inclusion. And you know maybe, remind our editors and publishers that a commitment to accessibility and inclusion also means thinking about the formatting and accessibility and how that will change based on how the modality is going to be changed, right? We’ve all encountered these books where it was clear it was formatted for online use there they actually embed the HTML, the URLs for the websites they are referring to which of course you have no way of accessing in a hard copy book. So these are some things to think about.
5:31 So of course one of the benefits of having certain documents in electronic versions, depending on how they’re shared, like, I don’t know, Word or PowerPoints, is that the user themselves can control the font type and font size. There’s has been a lot of conversations and debates about what fonts are the best to use from an accessibility point of view. In the WCAG standards, so the web content accessibility guidelines they do not name a font type or family but in 1.4.4 says that the text needs to be able to be resized from up to 200% without losing functionality. And so I have a resource from Penn State that I’m going to share in the episode notes that can help explain this. I’m also going to provide a resource by WebAIM that will help explain some of the things I was noticing, I think, in this book.
6:23 For fonts there has been a lot of discussion about how fonts that one is used to engaging with, or one is used to seeing on a regular basis, like Calibri or Times New Roman, can be more accessible to readers because they’re just used to seeing it, right? So that familiarity does become part of accessibility. The other thing though that one needs to keep in mind is that fonts have, you know, a limited number of of you know kinds and variations of fonts. And so you don’t want to have, you know, three or four different kinds of fonts in something, right? And this is something that the book that I was reading just simply did not do well. This is why there’s styles in tools like Word that you can follow so that the different headings selected and body text are part of the same font family. And so you don’t end up with three different kinds of font families in your book.
7:15 So I know that the guidance on font has changed even in the last few years that folk used to say a good rule is to keep sans-serif fonts like Verdana or Tahoma or Calibri at 12 font point minimum because it works well with screen readers that could have some confusion with the serifs. But there’s also discussion about how sans-serifs could work better online and serifs work better if you have to print out the information, and for some users that absolutely can be true, but like with anything when we talk about accessibility, we have to note that one thing will probably work well for one person, and it probably won’t work well for someone else. And screen readers are getting better and better and you know, so can access different kinds of fonts, and so being able to change the fonts on electronic documents can also help support that accessibility. So what I’m speaking to here more is not electronic resources, but actually like printed out resources. So we have to start thinking about what does that look like printed out.
8:22 There’s been some discussion, of course, about dyslexic readers and where there’s talk about how heavy bottom fonts like Dyslexie can be seen as helpful, and I will link in the notes to Dyslexie font if some of you have not seen that. But again that does not mean that is going to work for every dyslexic reader, right?
8:43 So, I know there’s a lot that can be said about fonts. I know that there’s a lot that can be said about font families and the decisions that are made when we’re creating resources and I really want to hear about, you know, some of the experiences that you’ve had with fonts, because I think there’s just, we need to talk more about fonts, because they really have an impact in the work that we do.
9:03 But I do I want to end this episode in a way that kinda transitions to the next episode where I’m going to be talking about academic publishing, with a note about comms and marketing in higher education. This is where all the comms and marketing people’s ears get big. I know that some of you are publishing resources and maintaining websites, and that you’re bound to use the kind of template font size and colour that your institution has noted. And I know that for some of you that font type, size, and colour may not be accessible at all. And if you’re an accessibility person that probably hurts your heart because you know every time you are putting something up, that you’re going to exclude somebody.
9:44 I mean, look it’s not your fault that the institutional colours decided like more than a 100 years ago have really crappy colour contrast, you have to go with what you have, right? But that doesn’t mean you have to be silent about it, right?. So if you are seeing that the default font or styling or colours is inaccessible have a talk with your comms and marketing people. It may not necessarily mean that something will change, but if you mention it enough times, it may become part of a conversation about the need to rebrand from an accessibility point of view. And folk who care about accessibility can move these conversations forward, if we start mentioning it more.
10:23 So that’s it, that’s episode 14 of Accessagogy, with a bit of a plea for you to look over the fonts that you’re using in your resources and publications and please don’t use 3 to 4 different kinds of font families in the books you publish, because then I won’t want to read them.
10:38 Remember as well that I also want this to be a space where you can ask questions and share concepts that you would like me to discuss. So if there’s anything that I mentioned here, that you would like me to clarify, please ask.
10:49 As always if you have any ideas or aspects of your pedagogy that you would like me to address in this podcast, please feel free to send me an email at Accessagogy so that’s acc e ss a gogy at gmail dot com. I will try to include as many suggestions as possible in the podcast because ultimately, this podcast is for you. So that’s it, that’s episode 14 of Accessagogy, thanks so much for following along and asking how can I make my space more accessible today? Have a great week!