There’s been a lot of discussion recently in the knitting world about accessibility. It’s a broad topic, and we know we can’t possibly address all concerns or answer all questions, but there are few aspects that we wanted to talk about. We thought it was worthwhile to review some of the features in Stitchmastery that help when you’re considering accessibility in knitting patterns.
In particular, we want to address the published guidelines for “Low Vision” pattern layouts, and the use of screen readers.
A note: I’m using quotation marks around that phrase very specifically, as it is a phrase with a specific meaning in discussion of accessibility. In using it, I’m not making any statements about the knitters who might choose to use these types of pattern. Allow me to make a simple analogy: I often watch movies and television with the descriptive captions turned on, even though my hearing is relatively good. I find that it helps with comprehension, especially for things with particularly loud or busy soundtracks, or situations with actors who deliver their lines very quickly. A “Low Vision” pattern layout is, by design, cleaner and easier to read. In addition to being helpful to knitters with visual impairments or limited sight, some knitters may choose to use them simply because they prefer that cleaner layout.
The guidelines listed below are agreed upon by accessibility advocates, and the objective is to deliver an uncluttered and straightforward pattern that can easily be read on screen or on paper, by someone who has low or limited vision, or that can be read aloud by an automated screenreader. Some of the content guidelines are more relevant to screenreader use. They can be grouped into two categories: formatting, and content.
For formatting, the following standards are recommended:
1. Black text on white background, only.
2. Sans serif and mono-spaced fonts (Arial, for example) at 22-24 points in size.
3. Normal and bold text only, no italics.
4. Text must be left-justified, in a single column, and page margins should be set to 1 inch.
5. Line spacing: single or one and half spaces. A single space between paragraphs.
6. Page numbers should appear at the top or bottom left of a page.
7. Headers and footers should not contain important information. Automated screen-reader software can’t always deal with them.
On matters of content, consider the following:
1. If using images, captions should describe the image or technique shown. This includes schematics. If there’s a photo tutorial of a technique, provide detailed written instructions.
2. Abbreviations can be very problematic. Any abbreviations used in the pattern must be defined. Consider replacing abbreviations longer than a single letter with full words. A number of multi-letter abbreviations have more common, non-knitting equivalents: for example, many automated screen readers will see “st” and read that out as “street”.
3. Charts can be used, but full written instructions must also appear. For “Low Vision” layouts, make the charts and the keys as large as possible on the page.
On that last requirement: this means that if a chart appears, a pattern must also provide fully-written out instructions that are exactly the same. Stitchmastery’s Export to Text feature is, of course, very helpful for this. Do make sure you’re using the repeats correctly so that the Text matches the chart exactly. This blog post outlines how to do this:
Article on Repeats and brackets.
The Stitchmastery team are looking at adjustments to make it possible to turn off the automatic condensing of implicit repeats eg “(k1, p1) 5 times” in the output text, as some screenreaders struggle with information contained within brackets. It may be more user-friendly to edit your written instructions to spell these out.
Chart and key appearance and layout
In terms of visual appearance, Stitchmastery allows you to choose a clear font in your chart row/column labels; to specify the pixel size of your exported chart and to use a vector-graphic format (eg EPS or SVG) which will ensure the chart remains clear when scaled up; and to export key items individually so that you can arrange your pattern elements as you prefer. For example, if your pattern includes multiple charts which appear on separate pages, it may be helpful to include the relevant key items alongside each chart. Adding gridline highlighting and using colour to highlight specific stitches may also help with reading a chart. Some helpdesk articles that can help with these include:
Editing text fonts
Exporting to image
Choosing an image file type
Editing diagram properties (includes gridline highlighting)
Before publishing, consider getting a tester to work through a version of the pattern with the charts removed, and/or ask your tech editor to ensure that your pattern can be worked without referring to the charts.
The written content of the chart key is an important element of accessibility, too. For many stitches, the abbreviation only gets listed in the key – e.g. k2tog, ssk, etc. Each of those needs to be defined fully for the pattern to be considered accessible. As noted above, when considering accessibility, it’s often preferable to spell out those words in an abbreviation.
In some cases, in the key, the words in the stitch name are already spelled out. By default, Stitchmastery spells out “make 1 right” and “make 1 left” in the Key, rather than the fairly common abbreviations “m1r” and “m1l”.
The challenge with spelling out the words that correspond to knitting abbreviations is that sometimes the words are sufficient to provide the instructions, sometimes they’re not. For example, consider k2tog and p2tog. If we spell out the words in that abbreviation – knit two together, purl two together – we get instructions for how to do that thing. It’s clear, it’s unambiguous.
But other abbreviations aren’t so straightforward. Consider ssk. If you spell out the words, you get “slip, slip, knit”. The challenge is that the words seem to spell out instructions, but simply slipping two stitches and knitting a third does not produce a decrease as intended, not to mention that there’s no indication on how to slip those two stitches. Make sure that you’re including instructions for other stitches like these – ssp, yo, s2kpo are classic examples.
At least with “make 1 right” you’ll be forced to look it up if you don’t know it, there’s not even a suggestion of how it should be worked in those three words! CDD is another example of this type of stitch name. It stands for “centered double decrease”, which describes the result but not the steps to make it. This is not to say that these are bad stitches, or bad stitch names. Not at all! Just remember that if you’re going to use them, please also do remember to provide actual instructions for working. This is something else your testers and tech editor can help with: making sure all special stitches are not only spelled out, but actually properly defined.
If you’re a user of Ravelry, there is a group dedicated to accessibility and there’s some information and guidelines posted there – Accessible patterns group on Ravelry. Ravelry has an attribute you can set if the pattern adheres to their requirement list, which is explained in that group. This allows knitters to more easily find patterns that meet their needs.
For a more detailed explanation of accessibility, I strongly recommend visiting the website Accessible Patterns Index. This was established by two designers in North America, one of whom is visually impaired. It features a constantly-updated list of patterns that meet accessibility requirements, and designer and knitter Renne Van Hoy has posted a recording of a 45-minute class about making your patterns accessible. For USD$20, you get access to the e-course and accompanying written guidelines, and a free accessibility assessment of one of your patterns. And of course, if your pattern passes the test, make sure to get it added to the list.
If you have further suggestions, tips or insights to share, either about patterns in general, other sources of information, or things specific to Stitchmastery (either useful things it can do or you wish it could), then please get in touch via the comments box below. We moderate all comments so don’t worry if your post doesn’t appear immediately.