Making a More Readable and Accessible Publication
What good is a magazine that someone cannot read? Our staff takes pride in the fact that Perspectives on History, now entering its 60th year, is an accessible publication. We hope that our articles can be enjoyed by everyone from high school students to emeritus faculty, those with a passing interest in history to experts who have studied the subject for a lifetime. It’s wonderful to hear from readers through letters to the editor, emails, tweets, and comments online. The variety of Perspectives readers—from professional historians to students to hobbyists—sets us apart from many other history publications.
There was one area, however, where Perspectives failed to reach our goal of readability. When we received multiple emails from AHA members noting difficulty reading Perspectives on History in print, we had to act. These readers noted two problems: the light teal color used throughout the magazine design and the thin fonts used in the body of the articles, both of which readers found difficult to read on the magazine’s glossy paper. Though we received only a handful of these emails, it is a real problem—and for every person who took time to reach out, there are likely others who had the same issues but either didn’t reach out or gave up on reading Perspectives altogether.
Accessibility cannot be an afterthought for any publication. It is a key part of our job as publishing professionals. But this is a particular problem for a publication like Perspectives. If we are not serving all historians, including those with low or limited vision, we are failing. The changes that follow represent just the start in improving accessibility of the print magazine and its website, not the end point. But we hope these subtle changes will have an immediate and noticeable impact.
Readers may already have noticed one change in these pages. Beginning with the September 2021 issue, we updated the color of the teal used in print to a darker shade (HEX #37aa9c, for the curious). The teal used in AHA branding is a vibrant, bright color, but it didn’t provide enough contrast with the glossy white page. The new teal should make for easier reading. The harder update was the font, which required consultation with design firm Pure+Applied. With their help, we settled on Swift as our new font. While Baskerville was aesthetically beautiful, the thin light lines were simply too small for many readers. Starting with this issue of Perspectives, the body of the articles will be typeset in Swift, a font that should be a bit thicker and clearer on glossy paper.
Online, digital communications coordinator Alexandra F. Levy is assessing the AHA website for overall accessibility and making improvements and updates where we can. In the next few years, the AHA plans to redesign the website, with the goal of ensuring the website fully adheres to the latest accessibility standards. Until then, we hope that Alex’s efforts are making the Perspectives site more usable in the short term. We are excited to improve the website and to include more readers in our online publications.
This fall, I attended a Society of Scholarly Publishing webinar on accessibility. Violaine Iglesias, CEO of Cadmore Media, reminded attendees of why accessibility must be a priority in everything we do. From her talk, I took away three main points about improving accessibility: It is the right thing to do. It is about people, not just technology. And you have to start somewhere. With those ideas in mind, we’re starting by modifying the color and font of the magazine. We do hope readers will let us know what else we can do to make Perspectives on History accessible to all readers. Because without you, who are we doing this for?
Laura Ansley is managing editor of the AHA. She tweets @lmansley.
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