Font style is one of the most important considerations of accessible website design. Although screen readers can be a great help in deciphering text for visually impaired users, choosing fonts that are easily legible will benefit more users from the outset.
However, it's not always clear which fonts are best for making website content accessible. So, which fonts are most legible, and what are the best ways to use them in a website?
Currently, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 does not specify the requirements for choosing an accessible website typeface. However, the US Department of Health & Human Services unofficially recommends the following fonts for PDF files: Times New Roman, Verdana, Arial, Tahoma, Helvetica, and Calibri.
What do the above fonts all have in common? For one, they're all basic, simple, and unadorned, with no extra decorations or flourishes. What's more, they usually come automatically installed on computers. When all else is equal, designers should always choose a more popular font over a less popular alternative. This will increase the likelihood that the user's computer can display it.
Although serif fonts are usually preferred for printed items, such as books and newspapers, the opposite holds true for websites. Proportionally, the "ticks" and "tails" of serif fonts take up a larger amount of space on a screen than they do on a printed page. In general, sans serif fonts display better on computers and mobile devices.
Above all, avoid decorative or overly stylized fonts, which are often difficult to read even for users without visual impairments or reading disabilities.
Designers who are looking to maximize the legibility of their websites should investigate fonts that have been created with readers with dyslexia or visual impairments in mind, such as Read Regular, Lexie Readable, and Tiresias.
When all else fails, the best option for an accessible website is a popular font with a clean, sans serif aesthetic. Some of the most appropriate fonts in this regard are Arial, Helvetica, Lucida Sans, Tahoma, and Verdana.
Other Considerations for Website Fonts
Choosing a particular font style is only one of several considerations for website accessibility. The guidelines below offer suggestions for how to best display text to maximize accessibility:
- Whenever possible, the text of a website should be written as text, rather than as part of an image or other graphic.
- To make text more readable for color-blind users, limit the use of reds and greens, and make sure that the text color has a high contrast with the background color.
- To improve accessibility and legibility and avoid confusion, websites should use as few fonts as possible.
- Consider expected audience when choosing font size. Most websites display paragraphs and other normal text at a size of 12 to 14 points, but this can be increased to improve legibility for users who need extra assistance.
- Avoid using the appearance of a font to convey meaning. Bold and italic text should be used only when necessary, as not all screen readers inform users when text is bolded or italicized.