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Designing for dyslexic users

Improve website accessibility for dyslexic users by optimizing language, colors, and fonts. Enhance usability and inclusivity.

Did you know that optimizing your digital content for dyslexic users may not only boost your website’s accessibility but also increase your customer base? With an estimated one out of ten people having dyslexia, that’s roughly 780 million people worldwide (1 out of 10 people have dyslexia) who could benefit from dyslexia-friendly design.

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and poor spelling and decoding abilities. To ensure that your content is inclusive and accessible, consider implementing certain design considerations.

What actually is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a reading learning problem. The International Dyslexia Association, the National Centre for Learning Disabilities, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development collaborated to produce a common definition of dyslexia:

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge. (p. 2)

Source: Lyon GR, Shaywitz SE, & Shaywitz BA (2003). A definition of dyslexia. Annals of Dyslexia, 53, 1-14. dx.DOI. 10.1007/s11881-003-0001-9 [CrossRef] []

Designing for dyslexia as a key to inclusivity and accessibility

It is also interesting to note that between 9% and 12% of the world’s population is impacted by dyslexia, with between 2% and 4% of people having severe symptoms. About 20% of kids going to school in the United States have dyslexia.

This means that hundreds of millions of potential customers could run into difficulties using our products. Designing for users with dyslexia requires considering their specific needs and challenges related to language processing. By implementing certain design considerations, you can create a more inclusive and accessible user experience for individuals with dyslexia.

The following best practices should help you make your content more dyslexia-friendly and also increase reading for everyone.

Choose clear fonts and typography

  • Font type: The font type you choose can have a significant impact on reading. Dyslexics may suffer a form of visual distortion in which words appear to run together. This is more likely if the font is heavily styled or there is little spacing between characters. Use fonts that are simple and clear and appear less crowded, such as Arial, Comic Sans, Verdana, Tahoma, Century Gothic, Trebuchet, Calibri, and Open Sans.
  • Font size: The font size should be 12-14 pt (points) or similar (e.g. 1-1.2 rem / 16-19 px).
  • Avoid using italics: Italics can make text harder to read. Instead, use bold or underlining for emphasis.
  • Avoid capital letters: Avoid or limit the use of capital letters for whole words and headings. Dyslexic readers may find lowercase letters easier to read, and excessive use of capital letters can cause crowding and make the text appear to run together.
  • Increase line spacing: Increasing line spacing slightly helps avoid crowding the text, making it easier for dyslexic individuals to track lines.
  • Thicker lines and varied lengths: Dyslexic-friendly fonts may use thicker lines in parts of letters and vary the length of letters that have sticks and tails (e.g., b, d, p).
  • Avoid abbreviations where possible: Always use the full word when first used in a document or resource.

Format text for ease of reading

  • Avoid long paragraphs: Break up long paragraphs into shorter, more manageable chunks.
  • Use subheadings: Use subheadings to structure your content and help dyslexic readers navigate through the text. For headings and subheadings use a font size of at least 20% larger than the rest of the text.
  • Bullet points and numbering: Utilize bullet points or numbered lists to present information in a concise and organized manner.
  • Spacing between paragraphs: Ensure adequate spacing between paragraphs and sections to enhance readability. A line spacing of 1.5rem can be beneficial because it ensures that the text is evenly spaced.

Use high contrast colors

  • Use high contrast between text and background: High contrast improves legibility. Dark text on a light background or vice versa is recommended. Avoid selecting colors that gives too sharp contrast like black (#000000) text on a white (#ffffff) background. They can make words swirl and blur together. This extreme contrast can cause glare, making words difficult to read and making reading long pages of text tiresome. Use tools like Color Contrast Finder to determine the best foreground and background colors that pass the color contrast ratio.
  • Avoid using color alone to convey important information: Supplement color cues with clear text explanations.
  • Color accessibility awareness: Be mindful of color choices for individuals with color blindness as dyslexia and color blindness can coexist.

Incorporate multimedia for visual aids

Some people with dyslexia are concerned about their ability to read and retain information. If they are presented with a large amount of information on multiple screens, they may feel under pressure. Some people can remember information better if they have listened to it or viewed a video about it. Video, graphics, and images all contribute to the formation of a visual memory.

  • Provide transcripts or captions for media: Provide transcripts or captions for audio and video content to accommodate dyslexic individuals who may struggle with auditory processing.
  • Provide an alternative description for images: Use clear and concise alt text for images to provide context for users who rely on screen readers.

Use simple language and writing style

  • Plain language: Use plain language and avoid jargon or complex terminology.
  • Clear and concise communication: Keep sentences and paragraphs concise.
  • Organize information effectively: Utilize bullet points and headings to break down information into manageable chunks.
  • Enhance understanding with simplicity: Use clear and simple language to improve comprehension.

Design intuitive navigation and layout

  • Layout: Ensure a clear and consistent website layout for easy navigation.
  • Define a clear hyperlink description: Use clear and descriptive hyperlinks instead of generic phrases like click here or tap here.
  • Provide search feature: Include a search feature to help users find specific content quickly.

Using images and diagrams to support text

Using images and diagrams as additions to text is an effective technique to increase understanding and engagement. Visual aids can help clarify complex concepts, summarise information, and provide a visual representation of data. They can be utilised in a variety of formats, including educational materials, presentations, reports, and articles.

Use a mix of images and diagrams to cater to different learning styles and preferences. Some concepts may be best represented through photographs, while others may require charts, graphs, or illustrations. Experiment with different types of visuals to find the most effective ones for your content.

Make your images and diagrams accessible to all readers, especially those with visual impairments. Provide alternative text descriptions and consider using color schemes that are accessible to people with color blindness (for example, by using high-contrast color combinations and warm and calming colors).

Provide text-based explanations or summaries for complicated graphics to accommodate different learning styles.

Summary of design considerations for dyslexic users

It is crucial to understand that dyslexia affects individuals differently, and there is no one font that works for everyone. Different people may have differed preferences when it comes to dyslexic-friendly fonts. It is always a good idea to talk with people who have dyslexia to understand their special needs and preferences.

Please bear in mind that, while dyslexic-friendly fonts may offer certain advantages in terms of readability and comfort, they are not a treatment for dyslexia. Dyslexia is a language-based learning problem, and using dyslexic fonts does not solve the underlying language processing issues.

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