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Accessible communication for people with disabilities

We often become so caught up in our efforts to communicate our work that we forget that our readers are a disparate group of people. You can see from our repository of educational articles here that we are guilty of this omission. There are dozens of articles with excellent discussion and suggestions as they relate to communication; however, they all focus on the expectations and approval of the “average” reader.

However, consider whether the best minds in your field represent the average reader? It is likely that a portion of the community that would cite your work, share your findings with their students, and recommend you as a reviewer, associate editor, or even editor-in-chief of a journal, could have a disability that makes the communication of science difficult. Two examples that are prominent—and relatively easy to address—are individuals with some degree of blindness, including the color blind.

There are a few simple strategies that will go a long way toward making your work more accessible to the full spectrum of scientists in your community.

1. Figures should be extremely thorough. The most common and viable tool for people with blindness to read figures, is an auditory description of the figure. The figure can be interpreted and read by a third party individual or via a variety of novel text-to-speech software. The more information that you include in the figure and the caption, the more thoroughly the individual will be able to understand its meaning. Figures should already be intelligible independent of the text as a matter of style, but in this case it is an absolute necessity.
a. Always define abbreviations and write-out text in complete sentences in the legends, where possible.
b. An active title that describes not only the topic of the graph but also the differences in variables is extremely helpful.
c. Graphs should be equally as legible as the main text at 100% zoom.

2. Certain color palettes are easier to distinguish than others. The following are color combinations to avoid:
a. Green & brown, blue & purple, green & blue, light green & yellow, blue & grey, green & grey, green & black, and red and green

3. Monochrome figures are desirable. Simply use different (though highly contrasting) shades of the same color.

4. Skip colors altogether and use patterns instead. Patterns are easier to distinguish regardless of visual ability.

5. When using a particular color to associate with a specific meaning or emotion, for example, red or orange for areas of hazardous pollution on a map, the image would benefit from the addition of a symbol that expresses this meaning, in addition to the color.

(Please retain the reference in reprint:

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