The concepts of digital accessibility are becoming known and understood by more people every day. As this knowledge gets implemented by a growing number of individuals and companies, some people who were historically excluded from equal access to online information can now consume and contribute to digital experiences more fully — when those experiences are built with their needs and methods of interacting with the material in mind. One too-often-overlooked area of web accessibility is creating content that may be easier for people with dyslexia to understand.
First, what is dyslexia?
Most people have heard the term, likely in reference to reading comprehension. Dyslexia, while it affects understanding written content, is much more than this.
Mayo Clinic defines dyslexia as a "learning disorder that involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words (decoding). Also called reading disability, dyslexia affects areas of the brain that process language."
Understood clarifies a common misconception: "Dyslexia is a problem with language, not with vision."
Symptoms of dyslexia vary and can be different for different age groups. For children who have not yet started school, signs could include late talking, learning new words slowly, or difficulty remembering or naming letters. For school-age children, they may read below the expected level and have difficulty remembering sequences, spelling, or finding the right word. Teens and adults may read slowly, mispronounce words, or have trouble memorizing. These are some common signs, not a complete list and not applicable to everyone.
Impact can go beyond the academic and into the socio-emotional. Children with dyslexia who experience trouble learning may be at a disadvantage in classes. But, they may also struggle to fit in, sometimes causing social or emotional issues. Dyslexia sometimes occurs with other conditions, like ADD and ADHD.
Dyslexia by the numbers
According to Austin Learning Solutions, over 40 million US adults and 20% of school-aged children have dyslexia. In digital content creation, ignoring the needs and challenges of people with dyslexia makes comprehension of and inclusion in the digital community that much harder for a large segment of the population.
Make content more usable for people with dyslexia
There are many factors to take into consideration to improve digital accessibility for people with dyslexia. Here are some of the key areas to keep in mind.
- In general, sans serif fonts are a best practice. They tend to be simple, clear, and easiest to read. These include common fonts like Arial, Verdana, and Tahoma.
- Aim for font sizes of 12 or 14 pt. to help with readability.
- Read: Best Fonts to Use for Website Accessibility.
- Use 1.5 line spacing, or double space your text. This helps some people more easily process larger bits of information.
- Break up lengthy paragraphs so they're more digestible.
- Avoid unnecessarily underlining words, using italics, or all caps.
Layout and graphics
- Use images and diagrams to break up and support your text, when appropriate.
- Left-align text and keep it consistent.
- Make sure your site doesn't interfere with a user's ability to customize text color, size, or font.