Accessibility, Adobe, Apple, Microsoft, Typography and fonts

Accessible Typography: Over 20 Hints to Make Your Site More Readable

I covered this topic more cursorily in an article for NOS Magazine, but I wanted to cover the topic in more depth to help provide web and app designers and developers create interfaces that are accessible to wider groups of readers. While there is no absolute consensus on what makes typefaces accessible, there are some principles worth noting. All the typefaces I’ve listed support Western European languages at the very least, and quite a few also include Greek, Vietnamese and Cyrillic.

Principles of typeface accessibility

  • Low stroke contrast can promote readability. Some typefaces that have low stroke contrast include Myriad Pro, Gotham, Helvetica, Arial, and Verdana. Some fonts have comparatively high stroke contrast, like Bodoni and Didot. Times New Roman has a moderate stroke contrast. Proxima Nova, commonly used on the web, a has relatively low stroke contrast except for specific letters, like “a,” in which it’s relatively high.
  • Disambiguating between easily confused letters can be helpful for some people. For example, in some fonts, capital I and lowercase l can be easily confused, along with the numeral 1.
  • Fonts with open counters (the whitespace between the strokes in letters) can sometimes be easier to read.
  • Sans-serif typefaces, like Helvetica, Arial, and Trebuchet MS, are thought to be more readable on screen than seriffed typefaces like Times (New) Roman or Palatino. Seriffed typefaces have little “feet” on the edges of the letters.

Examples of serif and sans-serif typefaces.

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AAC (Assistive and Augmentative Communication), Accessibility, Android, Apple, Internationalisation, Linux, Localisation, Microsoft

Link round-up, 27 August 2018

  • All the language packs available for Windows 10. Microsoft does a good job at representing Asian and African languages, especially compared to some other tech companies, though I can’t speak to the quality of the translations. Note that some of these languages require English (either variant) to be set as a base language for them to install. 
  • Google’s accessibility overview for Android developers. 
  • Over the course of 2018, Microsoft will be adding more accessibility features to Windows 10, including eye control navigation improvements, expanded accessibility settings and new input options for users with disabilities. 
  • Towards the end of 2017, AssistiveWare added localisation for Dutch and Flemish to Proloquo2Go, alongside English, Spanish and French. After adding these Dutch-language localisations, AssistiveWare made the app available in the Dutch and Belgian App Stores. There’s a good overview of the app on Communiceer (site is in Dutch).
  • An overview of the accessibility features in Ubuntu Linux. 
  • Information about how to make Debian Linux more accessible
  • Online Connections sells an Australian English exclude dictionary for MS Word to force it to allow only preferred Australian spellings. For example, if you want to allow only realise and not realize, entering realize into the exclusion dictionary will treat it as an error. MS Word’s British and Australian English dictionaries allow both –ise and –ize spellings, since both are technically allowed in British and Australian spelling. Matthew Goodall of New Horizons Learning Centres gives instructions for users to create their own MS Word exclusion dictionaries for other forms of English. (Incidentally, I disagree with Goodall that towards and grey are uncommon in American usage; towards seems to be the most common spoken form in all English dialects, and grey is pretty common, too. American dictionaries list them as secondary options, just as realise is listed as a secondary option in Oxford University Press dictionaries for British English, despite its being more common in everyday use.) 
Apple, Internationalisation, Localisation, Microsoft

Respect users’ spellchecker settings in MS Word exports

This is kind of arcane, fiddly technical stuff, but I’ve run into enough problems with this issue that I thought I’d write about it.

Anyway, people are complicated. So are the ways they use spellchecking, especially if they’re multilingual, expats, travellers or language-learners. Unfortunately, MS Word export functions in a number of MacOS and cross-platform applications don’t get the subtleties of language and dialect. I’ll use myself as an example, since I’ve been experiencing some frustration with how word processors handle language. My system-wide spellchecker is set to British English and always has been. My Mac’s interface has been in English, German and French; currently, it’s in French. My iPhone and iPad are set to English (UK).

All MS Word documents exported from Pages whose language is set to English under Advanced Settings will use the US spellchecker when I open them in MS Word, even if the region format is something else like UK. This is because Apple’s Word exporter parochially sets all English-language documents to US English, specifically using the en_US tag. I looked at the XML file associated with a test document and saw this for myself. I’m guessing it was an oversight rather than an intentional slight, but it’s still annoying because it comes with potentially unwarranted cultural assumptions. Pages should add explicit dialect preferences in the drop-down menu to make sure users get the spellcheckers they want. Oddly enough, all documents that I import into Pages use my system’s British spellchecker – American spellings and foreign words get red underlines. It seems that Pages recognises my system settings when I actually write in the app, but not if I open the exported file in Word.

I’ve also had issues in which MS Word documents that I wrote in English, with an English-language MacOS spellchecker, opening in French on others’ computers because some applications like Ulysses and TextEdit use their own UI’s language when exporting to MS Word format. These applications use the UI language to determine which language should be set in a .docx file’s associated XML settings. Applications that use the MacOS text engine should be able to tell that I write in English because of my spellchecker, even if I operate my computer primarily in French.

Also, when documents are created without a default language, Microsoft Office opens them in the language the user interface is set to, even if your default spellchecker is different. Because my computer is set to French, documents without a specified XML language open in French on MS Word. This is the reason why users of British, Australian and Canadian spellcheckers frequently have issues with documents erroneously opening in US English – Microsoft has never created a British, Australian or Canadian UI localisation for MS Word, meaning that the hidden default is always US English if you use the English-language interface even if your default spellchecker is set to something else. LibreOffice has the same problem.

I know that many companies think of conventional use-cases first, but there is a good case for anticipating less conventional use-cases too. For example, many non-native English speakers will set their UI to English and use spellcheckers in their native language. I’m the opposite; I’m a native English-speaker who sets my UI to either French or German and uses spellcheckers in English. In any case, it’s good practice to recognise a user’s spellchecker or spellcheckers when setting languages for documents or portions of documents, instead of assuming that a user’s UI language is always the same as their working language, or that there is only one valid dialect of a language.

AAC (Assistive and Augmentative Communication), Accessibility, Android, Apple, Cross-platform support, Internationalisation, Localisation, Microsoft

Brief updates – the good, the bad and the fascinating

Dropbox has been called out here before for date format foolishness, but they seem to be improving their internationalisation ever so slowly. If you look at the language drop-down, there are two English options now – hopefully that means English date formats will no longer default to Month/Day/Year. (They’ve also done it right by retroactively labelling English US for what it is, instead of having ‘English’ and ‘English UK’.) I want to say Latin American Spanish was added recently too, but I could be wrong.

iOS 9 has added some new language features, including a new Chinese system font, dictation support for more languages, Finnish and Korean spellcheckers, French/English and German/English bilingual dictionaries, improved Japanese autocorrect, predictive text for a variety of languages including Korean, Russian and Turkish, Canadian English and Canadian French user interfaces, and the option to switch between Arabic and Hindi number systems (h/t Multilingual Mac).

OS X El Capitan (10.11) has just added some new Eastern language support features as well, including the same Chinese system font that is now in iOS 9. There’s also new dictation for Arabic and Hebrew. No news of any new French, English or Hindi localisations – it’s Apple’s inconsistent internationalisation, yet again (and out of step with their other products and other operating systems).

Windows 10 had some localisation-related fail during the upgrading process, that required people to set their OS to English (US) in order to upgrade it properly. You shouldn’t have to change your system language in order to upgrade your computer, especially if you don’t speak English as a primary language. Good job, Microsoft. (That was sarcasm.)

Proloquo2Go is now available in Spanish! More info. There are bilingual English/Spanish children’s voices included with the new Spanish localisations, which are probably targeted towards the large bilingual Latino/Hispanic community in the US. (Interestingly, the boy’s voice has a recognisable Spanish-speaking accent when speaking English, whereas the girl’s voice has a recognisable American accent when speaking Spanish.) Adult voices come in Castilian Spanish and Latin American Spanish versions.

People on any region format other than US will not be able to see Apple’s News app on iOS 9 until iOS 9.1 – and I think that’s just for the UK and Australian region formats. (I know people are saying ‘people in other countries can’t see it’, but it’s tied to region format, not geographical location; anybody can set their region format to any country or language they want on an iOS device, and it doesn’t even have to match the UI language. You can set your region format to one language and have your phone set to a different language and your keyboard on another. Remember that when you set up an iOS device for the first time, it asks your language and region separately. I’ve seen screenshots of phones set to English but the region format set to Turkish.)

Skype In Your Language is a community-supported project for Windows and Linux that provides Skype localisations for languages and dialects that aren’t officially part of Skype releases. Not for the Mac, unfortunately – there’s no easy way to do unsupported localisations on OS X.

TalkTablet is an AAC (Assistive and Augmentative Communication) app that comes in iOS, Android and Kindle editions. It’s also available in multiple languages, unlike Proloquo2Go which is only available in English and Spanish.