Ensure your documents can be heard, by those who can't see.
It is one of the most important tools for making information easy to understand. It can also become part of the reason why some information cannot be understood. Here are some of the most common types of document spaces, and what they can mean from an accessibility standpoint.
Single line spacing
The most common ‘default’ spacing. Single line spacing is often used for content-heavy documents and where space is at a premium. This is also regularly paired with smaller font sizes, again to maximise the amount of information that can be displayed in a small space.
For people with low vision or those with print disabilities, small text positioned close together can become a nightmare to try and read. It is recommended that all information have a 1.5 line spacing with a minimum of 12pt font, or as close to this as is reasonable for the space and format.
Soft and hard returns
Soft returns or line breaks create a visual move to the next line without registering a ‘return’ character between the two lines. This is often used for visual formatting and to keep content together without creating a new paragraph. Problems with accessibility arise when the line break is done without a space after the last word, leading to the last word on a line running into the first word of the next line without any registered space between them.
Hard returns create a larger space, and begin a new block of text or paragraph. However unlike a soft return, this is a registered character that is read out by a screen reader. As such, an additional hard return used to create space will be read out as ‘blank’.
Leading and Kerning (Character spacing)
Designers often tweak the space between words and characters to enable font sizes to remain as required and still fit more content onto a line or avoid orphan characters or words. However, tight spacing between characters can make things difficult for people with low vision or other print difficulties. It also has the potential of being mis-interpreted by a screen reader as missing characters. Letters such as ‘f’ and ‘l’ close together can be recognised as a capital ‘A’, or two ‘v’s very quickly become a ‘w’ and vise versa.
Often in busy formats such as newspapers and magazines, content will be justified so that it all sits in one block. The problem with this is that it visually creates a river of space that is difficult to follow, but digitally there is the potential that a screen reader will not recognise the spaces as single character spaces. Imagine trying to read an entire paragraph without a single space between any words.
There are countless things in a document that can impact accessibility. The team at Tagged PDF look through hundreds of pages of content on a daily basis, and are more than happy to offer some guidance on use of space or any other questions you may have.
For more tailored design techniques, check out our Accessible Design Training to ensure the documents you create are as accessible as possible from the beginning.