Removing Barriers in Written Craft Patterns

19 November 2020
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Accessibility seeks to provide equally for users experiencing the world in a multitude of ways. In the context of craft patterns, a barrier is anything that prevents a crafter from accessing some or all of the information needed to complete the pattern. Therefore, the key to creating a barrier-free experience for most crafters is to ensure that there is more than one way of accessing every piece of information in a pattern or set of instructions. For example, this could involve text that can be converted to audio format, charts that are accompanied by equivalent written directions, or images that are described in a caption.

The typical written craft pattern includes heavy use of short forms, charts, abbreviations, and schematics. For crafters who are blind or who have physical or cognitive disabilities that make reading difficult, these practices can create unnecessary barriers to their use of the pattern. Given that 22% of Canadians have disabilities, something as seemingly innocuous as a poor choice of font could render a pattern unusable to a large number of people. Many designers are beginning to offer patterns formatted with accessibility in mind, often as a separate file in addition to their standard pattern. Although these patterns can look radically different from the ones we’re used to, the requirements are straightforward and the changes simple.

Accessibility Legislation and Guidelines

Actions or decisions that result in a person with a disability being negatively impacted, excluded, or otherwise treated unfairly, are considered discrimination. The Canadian Human Rights Act, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and related provincial and territorial legislation guarantee the right of people with disabilities to be protected from discrimination.

In order to uphold this right, the Accessible Canada Act, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, Accessibility for Manitobans Act, and the Nova Scotia Accessibility Act, pledge to improve accessibility both in physical spaces and online. More provinces and territories are expected to introduce their own accessibility legislation in the near future. In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 does not specifically address web content, but courts have found that inaccessible web content violates the rights of Americans with disabilities.

In Ontario, the public sector and organizations with more than 50 employees will be required to provide accessible formats for information about their business, and make their websites accessible, by January 1, 2021. Currently, accessibility legislation does not apply to products; this means designers are not legally required to make their written patterns accessible.

With many provinces pledging to become fully accessible in the next several years, web accessibility is an important consideration for any business, large or small. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the international standard to which most legislation requires compliance. The WCAG lays out clear minimum standards for all aspects of web design, including image alt text, video captions, colour contrast, and more.

11 Guidelines for Removing Barriers in Craft Patterns

The following are ways that craft-pattern designers and publishers can make their patterns more accessible. (Ed. note: We have a long way to go to make this publication accessible; we are working to implement these guidelines.)

1. Use text formatting best practices to ensure the pattern can be easily read.

Simple formatting changes can make a pattern usable for crafters with a number of different visual impairments and print challenges. Many people with dyslexia or limited vision can read text as long as it’s large and clear. If this is the only change you make, you will already have made your pattern accessible to many more crafters.

What to do:

  • Use a 24-point font that is all black and sans serif (Arial, Helvetica, and Verdana are best; some sans serif fonts such as Calibri are too thin and may be hard to read).
  • Ensure your pattern file is not Read-Only – files locked this way will not work with some screen-reader software.
  • Format text as left-justified.
  • Use standard one-inch margins.
  • Use a single-column layout.

What to avoid:

  • Do not use tables.
  • Do not put any important information in the header or footer.
  • Do not use italics.

2. Listen to your pattern before publishing.

Many people who are visually impaired, have dyslexia, or otherwise have difficulty reading text use screen-reader software that generates audio or braille output from text and images. Many software programs and even operating systems have built-in screen reader functionality. You may already have access to Adobe Acrobat’s Read Out Loud function, Microsoft Word’s Read Aloud, or VoiceOver on the Mac operating system. Listening to the pattern allows a designer to check for any places that clarity might need to be improved.

Abbreviations and symbols can be used if a key is provided, but they may not be read clearly by the software, so it’s better to keep their use to a minimum. Some abbreviations that are common in fibre crafts mean something else out of context, which results in, for example, “st” being read as “street,” and the double apostrophe symbol often used to indicate inches would not be read out at all. Abbreviations and symbols are easily replaced in a formatted pattern file by using the Find and Replace feature in your word processor.


How to Listen to your PDF in Adobe Acrobat:

In the “View” menu, choose “Read Out Loud.”

Finally, use punctuation strategically. Including a period or colon at the end of a line, where appropriate, will cause the screen reader to “pause” rather than reading one line immediately into the next, improving clarity.

3. Improve ease of keyboard navigation.

Screen reader users and some people with physical disabilities use keyboard navigation rather than a mouse, and can navigate through sections of a document using headings and internal links. For example, placing an internal link can direct the user to a particular stitch pattern or chart instructions. After working those instructions, the headings help them quickly return to their place in the pattern instructions.


Creating an Internal Link in Google Docs:

Highlight and right-click on the text to be linked, then choose “Link” in the menu. In the “Link” box drop-down menu, choose Headings and select the heading to which your link should direct.

4. Ensure images have alt text and captions.

All images, including schematics, need to be accompanied by text for those who are unable to view the image. Alt text is read by screen-reader software but is not visible to those reading the pattern text; captions are both read by screen-reader software and visible in the text. People with limited vision who can read large print may not be able to see an image clearly, so it’s important that captions appear in large print and include text to describe the image. For clarity, I label my caption “Image description.”

5. Choose colours with care.

Colour should not be the only visual means of conveying information, as some people are not able to differentiate colours. Using bold text, line spacing, or labelling something as a heading in your word processor (where appropriate) are better ways of drawing attention to a heading or important note. As noted above, italics can be difficult to read and should be avoided.

Even if colours look very different in layout, they may have a similar level of brightness and not provide sufficient contrast to be read easily. If using colours, use a contrast checker tool to ensure sufficient contrast.

Pure black (as opposed to dark grey) will be easiest to read for those with limited vision.

6. Patterns that use charts need to be accompanied by written instructions. Enlarging the chart is not enough.

The charting software Stitchmastery has a feature that automatically generates written instructions for charts, colourwork included. Written instructions are also available as a premium feature from the charting tool Stitch Fiddle.


Generating Written Instructions for Colourwork Charts in Stitchmastery:

Under the “Diagram” menu, choose “Diagram Properties.” Choose “Written Instructions” and check the box “Include colour in written instructions and for repeated stitches.”

It is also a good idea to check the contrast on charts (using a contrast checker tool like the one mentioned above) to ensure that they will be useful to people who can read charts but cannot differentiate colours.

7. Use video tutorials that combine audio and written instructions.

YouTube is a great resource for both designers and crafters for its abundance of tutorial videos, and it is also an accessible tool because the videos are auto-captioned. Whether uploading your own video tutorial or using an existing one, ensure that everything is described in both audio and written format and that the instructions do not rely on visual demonstration only. Photo tutorials have limited usefulness as they still need to be accompanied by a written explanation.

8. Consider offering an additional pattern file with light text on a dark background.

People who experience light sensitivity may not be able to look at bright screens, such as dark text on a white or light background.

Two of the same photo of a woman modelling a grey and blue lace crescent shawl with the text “Pattern Name by Designer Name” below each – on the left, with black text on a white background; on the right, with pale grey text on a black background.

Changing the background colour in Google Docs:

In the “File” menu, choose “Page Setup” and select “Page Colour.”


Changing the background colour in Pages on a Mac:

In the “Document” sidebar, choose “Section” and select “Background;” in the drop-down, choose “Color Fill.”


Changing the background colour in Microsoft Word:

In the “Design” menu, choose “Page Colour.”

9. Offer your patterns on multiple sales channels, if possible.

People with different needs may find different platforms more accessible than others. The National Federation of the Blind (USA) has found Etsy to be a screen-reader accessible sales channel. Sales channels such as Etsy and Payhip allow sellers to include more than one file in a single digital download, so multiple formatting options can be provided to customers automatically.

If your patterns are available on your personal website, now is a good time to check your website design against WCAG standards. The WAVE Report tool can help you track down barriers that may not be obvious to someone who does not have print challenges, such as insufficient contrast or missing alt text.

10. Include an accessibility statement on your pattern sales page, to indicate before purchase whether a pattern will meet individual requirements.

The accessibility statement can be placed in the “Notes” section on Ravelry or in the description of any pattern listing.


Sample Accessibility Statement:

This pattern is written in all black, 24-point, Arial font with no italics, no columns, fully written directions, and does not rely on charts. It has been tested using a screen reader.

Adding a tag to formatted patterns makes them easier to find.


Adding an Accessible Tag on Payhip:

On the “Products” page, click the “Collections” button. You can “Create New Collection” with the name “Accessible Formatted Patterns” or something similar. Once you have created the collection, click “manage” to choose which product listings to add to this collection.


Adding an Accessible Tag on Ravelry:

When editing the design, under “Attribute Tags” choose “Type of Instructions” (when creating a new design) or “Pattern Instructions” (when editing an existing listing). Use the “low vision” tag if the pattern meets the criteria in Guideline #1 above and has an accessibility statement in the “Notes” section. If it has been tested with screen reader software for clarity, it can be tagged as “screen reader access.”

Ensure that your contact information is present and accurate so that users can contact you if they are experiencing accessibility issues with your pattern or in your shop. Not all print challenges are created equal. Flexibility, continuous learning, and listening to those who are experiencing barriers, will be crucial.

11. List patterns on the Accessible Patterns Index.

The Accessible Patterns Index is a website designed specifically for crafters with disabilities and print challenges to find patterns they can use. With these groups in mind, the site is fully accessible: It uses minimal graphics and colours, and offers the ability to toggle to a dark background or to adjust text size across the entire site. If you have accessible patterns available, this is a great place for your audience to find them. Contact to have your patterns listed on the index.


Renee Van Hoy offers a course for designers that goes into greater detail about best practices for creating accessible patterns. She has generously offered to review and provide feedback on a pattern for each of her students. Renee Van Hoy’s Course for Designers can be found here.

Accessible Canada Act

Accessibility for Manitobans Act

Achieving an Accessible Nova Scotia

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

How to Meet WCAG Quick Reference

Eight Favourite Free Fonts for Print Disabilities

British Dyslexia Association Style Guide

Making More Accessible YouTube Videos

Ravelry Low Vision Format Guidelines

Digits & Threads Is a Member-Supported Independent Online Magazine

The articles, tutorials and patterns we publish about Canadian fibre and textile arts, crafts and industry are made possible by our Armchair and Studio Members.

Copyright © Nicky Jensen except as indicated.
Photo of Nicky Jensen

About Nicky Jensen

Nicky is an xray technologist who began designing and tech editing knitting patterns during her maternity leave in 2018. She has enjoyed the opportunity to meet and work with so many wonderful people in the knitting design world from the comfort of her living room in Bowmanville, Ontario, where she lives with her husband, young daughter, and puppy.

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