05.11.2020

Accessibility and Dyslexia: An Interview

screenshot of rebecca and jules laughing during a zoom interview

Dyslexia is more common than you might think.

Dyslexia is a common learning condition that impacts 15-20% of the population. It makes word recognition, spelling, and word decoding more challenging. The two most common variants of dyslexia are phonological dyslexia and surface dyslexia (though symptoms of dyslexia may present differently on an individual basis). Phonological dyslexia is linked to auditory processing, making it harder to distinguish individual word sounds and syllables, and blending those sounds into words. Surface dyslexia is visual in nature, causing difficulty with recognition and spelling; this is intensified with words that aren’t spelled phonetically.

gif of how text may look with dyslexia

Here’s how text may look for people who experience dyslexia.

Websites that don’t take dyslexia into consideration can be much harder to navigate.

In this interview, Jules and Rebecca talk about how you can make your website more accessible and easier for everyone to use.



When did you find out you had dyslexia?

Rebecca: I found out I had dyslexia later in life, I was already in high school. I have mild dyslexia, it was harder to diagnose at a younger age. I always felt I had a learning disability, but I blamed it on growing up in a household with dual languages. I would mix letters and numbers up frequently, and I had a hard time memorizing and reading for school assignments. In high school one of my teachers noticed I would mix my letters and numbers often, she asked me if I was ever diagnosed with dyslexia. Since then I have been learning to live a life with dyslexia.

How does having dyslexia change how you see websites?

Rebecca: Having dyslexia has changed my perspective on style. I used to be in awe of beautiful sites, with cool designs and fonts. I don’t have a problem with design, as long as it is accessible for all users. I see websites through the lens of compassion.

What type of designs are the most challenging to read?

Rebecca: Sites cluttered with content and not a lot of white space. Designs that do not have headings or images to breakup text. I have had problems with cluttered navigation, especially a mega menu with a gazillion links. It gives me a headache.

Are there fonts or color combinations that you’ve found to be easier or harder to read?

Rebecca:

Hard to read:

  1. Serif fonts.
  2. White backgrounds with black text.
  3. Italic fonts are nearly impossible to read.
  4. Text centered on a page.

Hard to read text

Black, serif text on white background that is harder to read for folks with dyslexia.

Easier to read:

  1. Sans Serif fonts.
  2. Text sizes between 12 and 14, the larger the font the more jumbled they become.
  3. Left justified is easier to read.
  4. A background that is not pure white or black, for text only.
  5. The more space around a letter, the easier it is to read.

Test your colors for accessible contrast. A contrast ratio of 4.5:1 is great. If the contrast is too great (black text on a white background is 25:1), it creates a challenge for people with dyslexia. Find a nice balance somewhere in the middle.

Easier to read text

Grey, sans serif text on off-white background that is easier to read for folks with dyslexia.

Are there things you do in your settings and preferences to make websites more accessible?

Rebecca: I use a chrome extension called dyslexia friendly, it changes the font to be heavier on the bottom, it also highlights each line. This helps to separate text. For sites with heavy text, like news sites, I use a reader.

wikipedia page without dyslexia plug in wikipedia page without dyslexia plug in

Left: Wikipedia page without dyslexia friendly plug in. Right: Wikipedia page with dyslexia friendly plug in.

What advice would you give to designers and developers who want to make their sites more accessible to people with dyslexia?

Rebecca: Pay close attention to fonts and spacing. Backgrounds and text should have good contrast. These two are very important.

If you could get designers and/or developers to make one change to make sites more accessible, what would it be?

Rebecca: Do not use serif fonts or italics! Breakup content with images. Avoid white backgrounds with black text, too much contrast is hard to read.



Website design is not an ‘or’, but an ‘and’.

You don’t need to pick aesthetics or usability. If you prioritize accessibility when designing, you can make a beautiful website that is usable, informative, and accessible to the 43.5 million people – in the US alone – with dyslexia.`







References:

“Dyslexia FAQ.” Yale Dyslexia, dyslexia.yale.edu/dyslexia/dyslexia-faq/.

Friedmann, Naama, and Max Coltheart. “35 .Types of Developmental Dyslexia.” Handbook of Communication Disorders, 2018, pp. 721–752., doi:10.1515/9781614514909-036.

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