type for the elderly / vision impaired

smatt's picture

Does anyone have some experience in specifying and setting type specifically for the elderly and vision impaired? I've searched on the web, and the studies done and the advice given by support organisations seem to have fairly general conclusions that lean towards sans serif type over serif and minimum point sizes to work with (12-14pt), maximising contrast, using uncoated stocks to avoid reflection among others.

It seems that people with a background in design or type are not involved in the studies or in specifying fonts for use. They always suggest Arial or Helvetica, which whilst they are freely available, tend to make work feel generic. I am considering Robert Slimbach's Cronos, which has some character and a generous x-height, but would like to hear other suggestions. I also wonder if the serifs are not such a problem, but the contrast between strokes with some serif faces that cause problems in legibility (Bodoni would be an exreme example). For instance would not Caecilia be a good typeface for this audience, even thought it has serifs?

Would anyone like to share their direct experience of working on projects for elderly/vision impaired audiences, and the typefaces they've selected or would suggest. Can anyone point me to good resources on this topic?

Thank you,
Stuart

Palatine's picture

I've read about this, actually. Not sure why it has to be so complicated.

Choose a legible serif face, use it at higher point sizes, apply generous leading, and set the text rag-right. Ensure that line length is fairly short. I'm sure that 45-55 characters per line will do.

Perhaps Robert Bringhurst's book on typographic style offers advice as well.

.00's picture

Actually most of the human factors research I have seen in this area points to sans serif over serif. The Lighthouse of Chicago is successfully using our ClearviewADA family. One of the directors there who is visually impared thought the ClearviewADA was the best thing he had ever read. But that is just one person's opinion.

Bringhurst's book is really only about classic book typography, and offers no serious information on any other typographic venues. It is not the bible.

timd's picture

http://www.tiresias.org/fonts/lpfont/index.htm

http://www.tiresias.org/guidelines/visual.htm

http://www.tiresias.org/guidelines/more_older.htm

There is some information on this site.
I don't think one should assume that age and visual impairment entirely overlap in the area of reading, but macular degeneration is a major area where there is overlap. It seems that macular degeneration would prevent the recognition of serifs, and further that serifs would interfere with reading.

Tim

Si_Daniels's picture

I think the ideas behind Tiresias relate to on-screen typography rather than print.

I also wonder if vision impairments and age-related vision issues completely intersect?

Cheers, Si

PS Canadian Joe Clark is one of Tiresias critics (due to his interest in captioning where the font has become part of certain captioning standards) see http://www.screenfont.ca/ (growing into a great resource)

smatt's picture

I saw ClearviewOne and ClearviewHwy families on the terminaldesign site. Is ClearviewADA different again?

Thanks for the info Tim and Si - I've got some reading to do!

Stuart

update> found a topic under General Discussions TYPE FOR PEOPLE WITH LOW-VISION that addresses a lot of my questions.

timd's picture

That screenfont site has been promising development for a long while, now it seems they have started putting the hypothesis into production, it will be interesting to see what they produce.

BTW Tiresias has a version for large print use as well as the other applications.

Good luck with your project Stuart, let us know what your solution is.
Tim

T Bones's picture

http://www.textmatters.com/our_interests/guidelines/typog_visual_impaired/

An informative site that looks at type and typesetting to aid the visually impaired.

Tim

Nick Shinn's picture

While there are serious age-related vision problems such as macular degeneration, the main difficulty for reading as you get older is the reduced flexibility of the cornea.

This results in the eye muscles around the cornea being unable to compress it enough to focus for near objects, such as text. One becomes long-sighted.

Glasses can remedy this, and return the reader to perfect vision, but the situation is progressive, so that over the years one's glasses creep down one's nose to maintain the same degree of acuity.

Not everyone gets their specs upgraded often enough, and many people end up making do, reading text which is not quite in focus. Many prefer to make do rather than constantly upgrade, which is a hassle and an expense.

When text is not quite in focus, that which causes difficulty is:
- too small
- too fine
- too much contrast

Typography is multivariant design, so it's possible to improve legibility by selectively adjusting these parameters. Officials and accessibility advocates are apt to overdo things, mandating massive clunky sans type, but that's a bit like shouting at everyone just to benefit a few hard-of-hearing.

Serifs are not an issue. If you go to the "large print" section of a bookstore or library you will find everything set in serif fonts. The wisdom of the market.

I don't know how old you are Stuart, but assuming you're young, why not go to an optician and ask him/her to make you a pair of glasses which simulate your vision when you're 60?

joeclark's picture

I'm critical of the research into Tiresias Screenfont, which is not applicable to the large-print use being discussed here. I also agree that you just can't trust the typeface suggestions of blind/low-vision organizations. They simply don't know what they're talking about. It's even fworse for LD groups – they actually recommend Comic Sans!

I also don't know of any really credible research... at all. Nonetheless, I don't see how you could possibly go wrong with Century Schoolbook for fiction. I further hypothesize that, as with screenfonts, size trumps a lot of factors, and nice big type (at least 14pt) in nearly any typeface that any of us here would agree is not "eccentric" will be readable. You couldn't use Hobo or Balloon Extra Bold, but you could surely use Seria Sans or Quadraat or Balance, particularly for heds.

--
Joe Clark
http://joeclark.org/

.00's picture

ClearviewADA is similar to ClearviewOne in design, but the weights and widths of the font family comply with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) guidlines.

hrant's picture

One thing to consider is what advantages elderly readers tend to have, since you can amplify that to help. Specifically, due to their greater experience with boumas, serifs help [more], as do more generous extenders.

hhp

smatt's picture

Thanks for the great discussion.

Nick - Your background info is illuminating and I love the idea of the glasses (walk a mile in another man's shoes - read a chapter with his glasses?) I'm in my 30s and despite the time spent staring at montiors, the eyesight's holding on. I'll have a talk to an optometrist about the glasses.
I also agree with your comments on typography, and selectively adjusting parameters. I wonder whether the large print sections of the market are dictated by the wisdom of the market or perhaps by convention as well. It fits with Hrants comment on boumas helping recognition but as terminaldesign mentioned earlier, most research points to sans serif although I'm not sure on the length of the texts used in the tests.

The research also points to type size being more important than typeface selection (within reason as Joe Clark points out). The italics of Century Schoolbook would rule it out for me, as I feel they are too script-like for this sort of work.

If a serif face, perhaps something like ITC Mendoza has merit, with an eveness of stroke weight, and a less cursive italic. FF Legato could be a good choice for a sans.

A little more background - I'm looking at typefaces for use in a government department dealing with ageing and disability that produces a wide variety of printed material, some specifically for a 60+ audience for example. I'm therefore doing some research so I can make informed choices that I can justify.

Stuart

hrant's picture

> most research points to sans serif

Most research is bunk. :-/

> type size being more important than typeface selection

With the important caveat that people prefer point sizes slightly too large for optimal reading... For the elderly with vision problems, it's a tough call, because you have to balance their greater experience with leveraging the parafovea (where a smaller size helps) versus the faltering acuity of the whole of the retina (where larger is better).

Legato might very well be the BEST choice for a sans. On the other hand, the more curvy a font the more blur (or alternatively aliasing) you get during lo-fi rendering, like onscreen.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

>over the years one’s glasses creep down one’s nose to maintain the same degree of acuity.

This reduces the apparent size of the text, so may explain why, as Joe says, just making the type bigger is the single most useful strategy.

Also, if you're becoming progressively long-sighted, holding the book at arms length in order to focus on the text, that makes it smaller as well.

joeclark's picture

Right. Hrant and his boumas and "bunk" research. I wonder how those matter in a discussion about edge-case reading needs for which there is *no* reliable research. I detect a whiff of ideology.

--
Joe Clark
http://joeclark.org/

hrant's picture

Paucity of data does not remove the responsability to think.
But certainly, don't bet the house on it.

hhp

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