Inclusion and Access: Graphic Design Skills for the 21st Century by Jennie Grimard

Beyond AODA Compliance

Jennie Grimard

Accessible Graphic Design

In the province of Ontario, legislation has created urgency for graphic designers to be inclusive in their processes by requiring them to produce accessible communications. The AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005) has a goal for the province to be ‘accessible by the year 2025’(, 2020).

The information and communication standard of the AODA addresses the way information is created and communicated. This standard directly impacts the workflow and design deliverables for every working designer in the province.

The compliance requirements of the AODA for graphic designers are primarily focused on the following:

  • Alternative formats to visual information (image description and alt-text)
  • Digital alternatives to printed materials for access with assistive devices
  • Maintain a 4.5:1 colour contrast ratio to adequately distinguish elements on the page (digital & print)
  • Logical information architecture with tagged semantic roles on web pages and PDF’s

The most recent review of the AODA strongly encourages the government to work with post-secondary institutions to build accessibility into professional and technical programs of study in order to produce a workforce that is well versed in the skills to produce accessible communications (Onley, D., 2019).

Accessible Document Checklists

If you are creating communications that you are sharing with the public, ensure that you are meeting the minimum requirements for AODA compliance. These checklists will help you keep accessibility top of mind as you are creating.


Limitations of the AODA

In the context of graphic design, the guidelines of the AODA present an accessibility baseline to ensure that blind and low vision communities are not faced with barriers in accessing information. While providing an image description to translate visual information is certainly beneficial in providing supplemental information to a participant who is using a screen reader, there are some limitations.

In an increasing digital world, our interaction points are entirely visual. Consider smart phone interfaces, websites, maps, etc… These representations are often very symbolic and abstractions of physical experiences. Providing adequate and relevant alternative text that will be meaningful to a participant poses a challenge. Currently the AODA requires image description for all visual elements however it does not prescribe the parameters as it’s highly contextual. If we move beyond basic compliance, graphic designers can begin to explore layering multi sensory communication methods to create more robust communications.

Iconic Representations of Brands

A logo is the visual representation of an entire organization, it’s culture and it’s values. Through it’s iconicity, colour palette, type choices and composition, the brandmark will evoke a sense of an organization’s identity. How can this visual representation information be translated into text, which is a sentential representation? What information is essential? What can be omitted?


Multi Sensory Design

Translating abstracted visual information into words omits many of the nuances and subtleties of the design. As we move forward in the 4th digital revolution, graphic designers will need to start expanding their toolkits to leverage the various modes of communication and diverse audiences to include audio experiences, tactile experiences, environmental experiences and virtual experiences.

One example of this design revolution is the growing prevalence of audio or sonic branding. Armed with research from neuro-scientists and seasoned marketers, reinforcing a brand’s identity through multi-sensory experiences communicates a more robust message, that lingers in the participants mind. Can sonic brands create brand recognition for the blind and low-vision community rather than inadequate image descriptions?

The digital design industry is evolving to include diverse teams, with expertise in various production skills. Communication designers (a.k.a graphic designers), will need to be the architects of the identity experience, ensuring visual, auditory, and language based consistency across all the different communication platforms.


Accessible Design Key Takeaways

    • Graphic designers are getting familiar with accessibility concepts due the AODA.
    • The AODA is a baseline for accessibility but leaves much room for innovation.
    • Multi-sensory design approaches will be the future of inclusive design.



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Inclusive Spectrums Copyright © 2020 by Jennie Grimard is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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