A comprehensive style guide can serve not only as a means of establishing and communicating the identity of a brand, organization, or individual, but also as a guide to help ensure content is always created with accessibility in mind. We review best practices for styles guides that will improve compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
What to define in a style guide
The exact details of what should be included in a style guide will vary depending on the type of content being produced, but a style guide will commonly include a statement on the identity and objectives of the brand or organization and rules regarding copy and the appropriate usage of logos, typography, and other media that relates to that identity.
Whether streamlined or extensive, updating your style guide now can help make the process of improving and maintaining accessibility much more sustainable moving forward.
Defining the objectives, values, and audience of a brand or organization can help content creators keep the overall goals of the organization in mind. This is a great opportunity to include statements regarding equity, non-discrimination, and accessibility to help ensure that no group is forgotten and to help clearly establish inclusivity as a core value.
Copywriting can—and often does—easily warrant a style guide all on its own. Declaring what to refer to for grammar, spelling, and syntax—even if that means defaulting to an existing style guide such as AP—can help improve the consistency of copy, which is especially useful across teams of writers.
In addition to general style rules, establishing a voice can help create a more consistent experience for readers—improving readability overall—and defining the target reading level can help ensure content remains accessible to a wider group of people.
Logos and multimedia
Logos can be one of the primary ways an audience identifies a brand or organization. They are exempt from color contrast requirements but text included in logos is considered essential information, so it is recommended to make it as perceivable as possible. Rules regarding acceptable variations, modifications, dimensions, and usage can also help ensure that logos remain accessible, especially when being used by other parties.
Additionally, since images cannot be perceived by all people, it’s important to establish guidelines ensuring sufficient and consistent alternative text is always provided to help users identify the presence of the logo.
Other multimedia should be treated with the same level of consideration, ensuring that it is used to enhance existing content and that alternative text, captions, or media alternatives are provided as needed. Embedding text in images should be avoided, especially when that text is conveying important information.
Official colors can also be a significant aspect of the visual identity of a brand or organization, so it’s recommended to make use of color combinations that can be easily perceived and that have sufficient contrast ratios. Defining a set of palettes with suitable color combinations can help content creators keep things accessible while staying on brand.
Since there is no way to guarantee any selection of colors that will be perceivable to all people, it’s also important not to rely on color to communicate critical information to the audience. Color can be used to enhance messages for those who can perceive them, but it’s helpful to provide guidelines on additional methods to use in parallel so that everyone receives the message.
Defining and using an official typeface can also help create a sense of consistency and unity across content. Sans serif fonts are typically considered more accessible, making them a good option to default to. Rules regarding the size, spacing, and colors should also be considered to help ensure text content follows the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) recommendations for distinguishable digital content and to help achieve better readability of printed material.
The guidelines and best practices for accessibility are constantly evolving, but updating your style guide now will not only help improve current and future content, but set your organization up to easily adapt to those changes as they come.
If you have not yet defined style guides or do not know where to start, consider developing an accessibility charter with support from your organization's leadership. An accessibility charter is a great way to define the organization's objectives and commitment to accessibility, as well as support your efforts to overcome any organizational resistance to your accessibility initiative. Adopting a policy that clearly outlines the organization's expectations regarding accessibility will ensure you have the support needed to continuously update your style guide when new best practices are identified.