BPOW: Accessibility Tips for Users with Dyslexia

By October 28th, 2013

In this week's best practice, we discuss the accessibility needs of users with dyslexia. Dyslexia is a learning disability that impacts an individual's reading fluency and comprehension, affecting 8% of all people worldwide. There are common issues that people with dyslexia struggle with every day when interacting with web content, but we can easily avoid them to provide a more accessible user experience.

What do Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Andy Warhol, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, John Lennon, Muhammad Ali, Steve Jobs, and William Butler Yeats all have in common? If you answered, “They’re all on a list of Amazing People Who’ve Changed the World” then you’d be correct. But, these names are also on another important list: Famous People With Dyslexia. Along with Steven Spielberg, George Washington, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie, the list goes on.

Dyslexia is a learning disability that impacts an individual’s reading fluency and comprehension, affecting 8% of all people worldwide. There are common issues that people with dyslexia struggle with every day when interacting with web content, but we can easily avoid them to provide a more accessible user experience. Let’s look at those issues from the perspective of someone accessing your site:

As a dyslexic user, sometimes…

  • I have trouble with learning sequenced activities, especially when they’re unpredictable or inconsistent.
  • I have difficulty reading the content on your site if it’s using unfamiliar or unusual fonts.
  • I’m easily distracted by audio or video noises on your site.
  • I encounter problems reading online maps.
  • I have trouble reading large blocks of text that don’t have any white space.
  • I need to re-read sentences several times just to understand their meaning.
  • The contrast between the text and the web page background is too bright for me to read it easily, causing words on the page to swirl or blur together.

Take a look at the following sentence and the variations that dyslexic users might see:

  • The brown dog was quick and fast. (as it’s written)
  • The drown bog was quick and fast. (letter confusion)
  • The ebro wnd ogwa squick an dfa st. (random spacing)
  • The brown ogd was qiuke and fast. (word-letter mixture)

Some dyslexic users benefit greatly from using a screen reader in addition to scanning a page visually, and some other users may load a custom stylesheet. Generally, dyslexic users learn better through experiences and hands-on interactive activities, understanding better through visuals instead of lengthy text.

Here are a few things you can do to improve the readability and accessibility of your site for 8% of the population:

  • Create a consistent, predictable set of interactions for sequenced activities.
  • Limit the use of multimedia that plays automatically.
  • Avoid the use of unusual fonts on your web pages.
  • Find alternative security solutions to CAPTCHA.
  • Create clear and simple sentences, and break up lengthy paragraphs of content.
  • Use visuals where appropriate to reinforce complex concepts.