Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects how a person reads, writes, and comprehends language.
A common neurocognitive disorder, dyslexia affects up to 20% of the population according to the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. Well-known celebrities like Cher and Octavia Spencer have spoken out about how the disorder has impacted their lives and careers.
In digital accessibility discussions, dyslexia is often overlooked — or misrepresented. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the common myths about how people with dyslexia navigate the internet.
Dispelling Common Myths About Dyslexia
Dyslexia affects people in different ways, but the condition is often characterized by difficulty with “decoding" words — matching letters to sounds.
People with dyslexia often describe letters “jumping around" the page, or say that words and letters move to the preceding and following lines.
It’s important to note that dyslexia is a complex condition, and not everyone with dyslexia will exhibit the same symptoms. Like other neurocognitive disorders, it’s a spectrum: Some people with dyslexia can read content easily, while others may change their browser settings, zoom in (magnify) text, or use certain fonts to make content more readable.
Myth #1: Dyslexia only affects reading and writing.
Although dyslexia has been shown to primarily affect reading and writing skills, the condition can impact other important areas of development such as organization. People with dyslexia may also have difficulty with time management and memory.
As a result, these internet users may need more time to read and interact with content. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), widely considered to be the international standards for digital accessibility, includes requirements for website time limits — and by providing users with a way to extend or pause time limits, websites can provide dyslexic users with better experiences.
Myth #2: Dyslexia is primarily a vision problem.
Dyslexia is often described as seeing words “backwards” or “upside down.” This is misleading: Dyslexia primarily affects language comprehension, not vision.
Some research suggests that children with dyslexia may be more likely to have binocular vision problems. Their eyes may move excessively — but this may be a symptom of the condition rather than the cause of the condition.
Myth #3: Dyslexia fonts can improve experiences for all people with dyslexia.
Dyslexia fonts are special typefaces with unique designs for each letter. Popular fonts like Dyslexie may be more legible for some readers.
However, numerous studies have found that dyslexia-specific typefaces do not improve readability or comprehension. While the spacing between letters seems to affect reading speed, typefaces do not seem to be an important factor.
With that said, some people with dyslexia find certain fonts useful — and we’re not discounting their experiences. But unfortunately, there’s no “magic bullet" for addressing the full spectrum of dyslexia symptoms.
Improving Digital Accessibility for People With Dyslexia
You can take simple steps to make your website’s content more accessible to people with dyslexia. Some quick tips:
- Avoid jargon. Jargon refers to words, phrases, or expressions that are commonly used inside of a group or profession. When using unusual terms, provide a definition — but use plain, simple language wherever possible.
- Use a basic, unadorned font. Sans serif fonts are generally easier to read on computer and mobile screens. Read about the best font choices for accessibility.
- Structure your content. Break up longer paragraphs, use bullet points, and include relevant images. For long content, use descriptive headings to help users find the information they need.
Finally, test your content against the latest version of WCAG (currently, WCAG 2.1). Contrary to popular misconception, WCAG isn’t just for accommodating users with vision or hearing disabilities.
By using a principle-based approach, the guidelines improve experiences for every user — including people who don’t have conditions that affect their internet usage.