Accessible Fonts: How To Choose The Right Font For Website Accessibility

Brian Bojan Dordevic
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Brian Decoded

President at Alpha Efficiency

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Are you concerned that your website does not meet content accessibility guidelines? Some fonts are more accessible than others, making text content highly readable and legible, ultimately enhancing a website’s inclusivity.

Using accessible fonts is not a matter of choice. Failure to provide an accessible website can lead to a legal demand for your business. The U.S. has strict web content accessibility guidelines that all sites must meet.

Certain fonts can slow readers down or make it impossible for website visitors with reading disorders or visual impairments to understand your content. That leads website owners to do everything within their power to build an inclusive website, from sticking to WCAG guidelines to using ADA WordPress Plugins. What’s an essential step to ensure an ADA-compliant website? Selecting the right fonts.

In this article, I’ll explain the principles my Los Angeles web design agency uses to choose the right fonts for your website. You’ll learn what fonts it’s best to avoid and what type of content is crucial to prioritize readability. Plus, I’ll share my top accessible fonts for web design.

Table of Contents:
Accessible fonts

Why Are Accessible Fonts Essential For Good Web Design Practices

Creating a website design with accessible fonts is a crucial point of the ADA website compliance checklist. While modern fonts and typefaces with ornaments look beautiful, they sometimes lack accessibility. Overly decorative typography can make a text difficult to read, preventing a nice and smooth reading flow.

A significant percentage of your website visitors may be users with visual impairments, reading difficulties, or a learning disorder. Those users will find it challenging to digest your content if you don’t put any offers on providing accessible text.

If your site has a large number of accessibility issues, you can end up with a lawsuit in your hands that costs your company thousands of dollars.

Besides running the risk of legal action, poor accessibility undermines the performance of your website. Tackling accessibility issues helps you offer all users an enjoyable experience to enjoy your site and target a broader audience.

How to Distinguish An Inaccessible Font

Recognizing inaccessible fonts

To quickly discern accessibility issues on your website, you can use an accessibility checker. This useful tool will scan your site and show red flags you must promptly fix to meet ADA accessibility requirements.

However, I always say that the best way to ensure an inclusive website is to avoid significant accessibility problems in the first place. As a web designer, you know the importance of typography in web design. It’s no surprise that complex or unclear fonts lead to one of the biggest accessibility issues.

Some fonts are designed with only aesthetics in mind, leaving legibility aside. Those fonts often share common features, which make them difficult to read. You can use those characteristics to spot inaccessible fotns and avoid using them on your web design. Inaccessible typefaces usually have one or more of the following features:

  • Make your website content difficult to read
  • Slow readers down
  • Make it difficult to distinguish between letters and characters
  • Characters are not properly separated
  • Letters and characters overlap, compromising legibility and making content difficult to understand
  • Include too many unnecessary adornments

On What Type of Content You Should Prioritize Font Accessibility

When I say you must prioritize legibility, I don’t mean there is no room for creative expression and playing with font styles. Hand-drawn typefaces, decorative fonts, or experimental typography are incredibly useful for communicating your brand’s unique personality and core values. But those fonts belong to specific web design areas, such as logos or call-to-actions.

As you would use bold or innovative typography to grab website visitors’ attention and express personality, you must stick to more traditional and clean fonts for other types of content.

You should prioritize good readability of long text pieces, such as articles or blog posts, essential information, headings and subheadings, subtitles, and closed captions.

Furthermore, always remember that digital inclusion doesn’t end on your website content. Ensure you are using accessible font mas on all the channels you use to communicate with your target audience. That includes emails, PDFs, downloadable content, videos, and images.

What Makes A Font Accessible? – Choosing The Right Font For Your Website

I already talked about the features that make a font not accessible-friendly. Now, let’s move on to see which font characteristics will help you narrow down your search for the perfect font for your business website.

Accessible Fonts Are Simple and Familiar

When looking for an accessible font, simplicity is key. Ornaments and excessive decoration may look great but will most certainly compromise legibility.

Simply, familiar fonts allow website visitors to quickly scan your content, improving readability.

There Is Enough Spacing Between Characters

Some fonts have less space between characters than others. Tightly packed fonts can cause letters to overlap and words to squeeze together.

Ensure you select a font with enough white space between letters so your website readers can digest your content easily.

Letters Don’t Mirror Each Other

Some fonts’ letters look the same if you flip them horizontally. This is called “mirroring,” and some web designers use it to add consistency and accelerate the design process. However, letter mirroring can create reading difficulties for some users, particularly people with dyslexia.

Opt for fonts that don’t use mirrored letters. Some good options are Time New Romans and Garamond.

Best Font Size For Website Accessibility

Best font sizes for website accessibility

Even if you choose an accessible font, your website text may still be inaccessible to some users. One reason for this can be an inappropriate font size. Some users may need smaller or larger text sizes to read your content. Choosing the wrong font size can also cause your website to fail the ADA compliance guidelines.

The ADA and WCAG have not yet fixed a font size standard for websites. That doesn’t mean any text size is accessible;  your site could be penalized for using an inaccessible font size.

While there is no fixed font size, these are some ADA-accessible font guidelines that could be useful:

  • It’s best never to go below 12pt (16px) for body text.
  • It’s recommended to use relative font sizes; absolute font sizes may not be resized appropriately across different screen sizes or platforms.
  • Use appropriate font sizes for headings and subheadings to ensure readers understand your content hierarchy.

What Font Color and Color Contrast Should You Choose?

Your site’s color choices can make or break its accessibility. When it comes to web design, colors are used for different purposes, including grabbing users’ attention, affecting their emotions, imparting essential information, and guiding visitors toward important areas or elements. To prevent colors from causing accessibility issues, the WCAG recommends that font colors shouldn’t be the only means to achieve those goals.

A good rule of thumb is to use black text on a white background. Although that is the default choice for websites, sometimes, a pure white background and a pure black font can create a contract too strong for some users. You can improve accessibility even further by instead using off-white and off-black.

If you must use font color to convey information or showcase your brand personality, make sure to include an alternative visual indicator to help visually impaired visitors interpret your content. That could be underlying or bolding the text or using other discernable cues so users don’t solely rely on the colored text to decipher the message.

Regarding color contrast, the WCAG offers clear and helpful guidelines for web design:

  • Headlines: A contrast ratio of at least 3:1.
  • Body text: With the exception of headings, the main body must have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1.
  • Logotype: There are still no requirements for text in logos, although making your brand logo legible is crucial for brand recognition and memorability.
  •  Incidental text: Text that is not part of an active user experience or is pure decoration doesn’t need to meet any color contrast requirements.

Top Accessible Fonts for Web Design

The good news is that most standard and readily available fonts for websites meet the ADA compliance and WCAG  web accessibility standards.

These are the most accessible fonts for website body text:

  • Tahoma
  • Calibri
  • Helvetica
  • Arial
  • Verdana
  • Times New Roman

Designers debate whether sans serif fonts are more accessible than serif fonts. However, research is still not conclusive on that matter, so the choice is up to you. For the best result, I recommend using familiar fonts with highly legible characters.

These are the top font choices for website headlines:

  • Arvo
  • Museo Slab
  • Rockwell

Final Thoughts

Providing accessible text is one of the key factors of website accessibility. The fonts you choose can enhance your web design by offering an enjoyable experience to all users or cause trouble, such as visually impaired visitors leaving the site or a user taking legal action.

Remember, it’s your responsibility to build a website all users can easily navigate and understand.

That doesn’t mean you can not express your brand identity or experiment with 2024 font trends. There is still plenty of room for creativity; you only need to stay within the ADA accessibility guidelines to ensure a positive experience for all your website visitors.

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