Comic Sans is controversial. Since its release in 1994, the playful, Batman-inspired font has been panned as “ugly” and “unprofessional,” particularly when used in situations where comic typefaces might be inappropriate.
Despite the criticism, Comic Sans remains one of the most popular sans-serif fonts available — and according to some disability advocates, Comic Sans has at least one potentially important application: It may be more legible for people with reading disabilities.
Does research support using Comic Sans for accessibility?
In accessibility discussions, it’s important to listen to the experiences of people with disabilities. If someone says that a certain font helps them read, they’re probably telling the truth.
Many people with dyslexia describe comic sans as a powerful assistive tool, noting that the font has few repeated letter-shapes. The British Dyslexia Association recommends Comic Sans, noting that “letters can appear less crowded" than with other fonts.
But it’s also reasonable to be skeptical of these claims: As we’ve discussed in other articles, dyslexia is not a vision disorder. The condition affects a person’s ability to distinguish between phonemes (the sounds that make up words).
A number of dyslexia-specific fonts are available that claim to improve text legibility by using unique designs for every character. This is based on the idea that people with dyslexia “flip" characters when reading.
Currently, peer-reviewed studies have failed to support the use of specialized dyslexia fonts. For a more detailed explanation, read: Do Dyslexia Fonts Improve Accessibility?
However, those studies did not specifically investigate Comic Sans as a dyslexia-friendly font. And the design of individual characters isn’t the only factor to consider: The spacing between letters and characters can certainly affect readability.
Sans-serif fonts do not have extending features (called serifs) at the end of letters and numbers, so there’s usually more space between the characters. Research suggests that this improves reading speed, comprehension, and recall.
Should I use Comic Sans for accessibility?
Typefaces may affect web accessibility, but if you want to provide a better experience for readers, Comic Sans isn’t the only option. The best practice is to use a widely available font with no extra decorations or flourishes.
In addition to Comic Sans, the British Dyslexia Association recommends Arial, Verdana, Tahoma, Century Gothic, Trebuchet, Calibri, and Open Sans. Learn more about how typefaces affect accessibility.
It’s important to remember that while typeface is important, the size and color of your text will have a much greater impact on accessibility. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), considered the international standard for digital accessibility, does not require the use of any specific font.
However, it does have several important requirements for text:
- WCAG 2.1 SC 1.4.1, “Use of Color,” requires that color is not used as the only visual means of conveying information. For example, you shouldn’t use text color alone to indicate that a certain word is especially important.
- WCAG 2.1 SC 1.4.3, “Contrast (Minimum)” requires the visual presentation of text and images of text to maintain a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 (for normal text) or 3:1 (for large-scale text).
- WCAG 2.1 Success Criterion (SC) 1.4.4, “Resize Text,” requires that text can be scaled to 200% without the loss of information or functionality.
Since users can control the size of text, WCAG doesn’t have requirements for text size. The default font size for web browsers is approximately 16 pixels (px), which is roughly equivalent to 12 points (pts), so the best practice is to stay predictable.
Creating Accessible Content for All Readers
As a web designer or developer, your job is to provide the best possible user experience. Following WCAG helps you create content that works for as many people as possible — that includes people with dyslexia, but also people with disabilities that affect their vision, hearing, memory, cognition, and mobility.
To learn more about the advantages of accessibility, download our free eBook: Developing the Accessibility Mindset. You can also test your content against WCAG’s Level A/AA checkpoints with our confidential, automated web accessibility analysis.