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Web Design for Dyslexic Users

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Q. How should a website homepage be created so that people with dyslexia can get the most out of the page?

I'm a Swedish student studying computer science and technology at Lund University. We have recently started a course called Netability. My group has chosen to make a homepage about our education program. The main problem is how should a homepage be created so that people with dyslexia will get the most out of the page?

—B.M., Posted to Discussion Board. (November 1988)

A. To design a page that is dyslexic-friendly, consider the needs of the following two groups:

  • Dyslexic people who use computer speech output technology:
    Like many visually-impaired users, many dyslexics now rely on computers to read the text to them. Thus pages should be designed to be compatible with most screen readers. All important information should be conveyed in text, as computers can not read or interpret graphic images.
  • Dyslexics who need clear graphics and distortion-free text:
    Other dyslexic individuals, who are reading your site on their own, will appreciate clear, simple, and consistent graphic navigational icons. They will be troubled by flashing text, variations in fonts, distracting sounds or animations, and textured or patterned backgrounds.
Here are some of my ideas for making web pages dyslexic-friendly:
  1. Keep paragraphs short, and use a small amount of text on each page. If a long article is posted, create a topic index at the beginning, so that the dyslexic reader can quickly narrow in on the parts that interest him or her.
  2. Use default font settings or provide a way for users to choose their own styles. That way, a user can choose their own preferred font with their browser, or create their own style sheet. Many dyslexics find they read best with one particular font.
  3. Keep your main text left-justified. It is very hard to read paragraphs where all lines are centered or which are right-justified.
  4. Use a consistent layout and format throughout the site. It helps to have navigation aids laid out consistently on every page.
  5. If you use frames, be sure to provide a no-frames alternative; some text-to-speech software cannot read text on framed pages.
  6. Make a list of relevant links at the end of a paragraph or section, rather than merely placing the links within the body of the text. That way the user can find the important links without needing to read all the text. Be sure to clearly describe the type of information or site the link will lead to.
  7. Use small icons to help with navigation between frequently used web pages. There should also be a text alternative for navigation (or the 'alt' tag should be used), for those individuals who rely on computers to read the page contents to them.
  8. Never use flashing text. Do not use animated or moving graphics unless the animation is necessary to illustrate important information, such as an animation demonstrating how a machine works. Even so, it is best to place the animation on a different page, or to set it up to start only when clicked.
  9. Avoid using background images behind text. Make sure that there is a good contrast between the color of the background and the color of text.
  10. Do not set up background music to play, unless the site gives the user a choice whether to turn it on.

Sites that are designed to be easy for dyslexics are also easy for others to use and navigate. Market research shows that most people find it harder to read on a computer screen than from printed sources, so many non-dyslexic people will appreciate the dyslexic-friendly format.

—Abigail Marshall, DDAI

Q. Why don't you use larger fonts on this web site to make it easier for dyslexic people to read?

You have a lot of great information on this website. Unfortunately, my dyslexic husband has a hard time reading so much. He can better read material that is ALL CAPITALS or in a simple font such as Helvetica and that has more spacing between the lines of text. Perhaps you could develop some basic information that is set in a format better accessible to dyslexics?

--Jean, E-mail to Webmaster. (September 1998)

A. We try very hard to make this web site easier for dyslexic people to read.

Many dyslexics have difficulty with certain fonts or with small print; others would prefer to have a colored background to reduce contrast.

Unfortunately, the preferences of dyslexic people vary considerably. For example, it is unusual for someone to be better at reading all capitals. Generally, this makes text much harder to read, both for non-dyslexics and dyslexics. Also, some dyslexic people are tremendously confused by sans-serif fonts, which make it difficult to distinguish a capital "I" from the lower-case 'l' for example.

Thus, we have chosen to make most parts of our web site easy for the user to customize. If you have javascript enabled on your browser, you can select your preferred font and color scheme on our site customization page. If you choose the "None (Your Browser Setting)" setting, the font size and face will be controlled by the preferences set in your own browser.

If you use Firefox, you can also choose alternate style sheets designed for easy readability. To find these, choose the menu option under "View" for "Page Style".

Another problem is that colors do not render consistently from one computer monitor to the next. Thus, the choice of any color background could cause readability problems to some users. Our default setting on most pages is for the main text to be displayed against a white background. However, you can easily choose another background color, again either by selecting a different color scheme on our customization page or through resetting the preferences on your browser.

We also do not use background images or patterns, flashing text, or animated graphics. All of these can make reading more difficult

We have also tried to make our pages readable in text only format, and compatible with speech-synthesizing software. For that reason, we avoid capitalizing words or phrases. Many speech-syntesizer programs will read a capitalized word letter-by-letter. You will notice that there is a "Text Only" link in the upper left hand corner of each page. The font and color for the text-only display can also be controlled, although the options are somewhat more limited.

There are some areas of our web site that are interactive and driven by specific software programs, such as our FAQs or our on-line shopping area, or results returned from database searches. The pages are not user customizable because the software that drives those sections does not allow those options; however, we have done our best to ensure that those are also readable.

—Abigail Marshall, DDAI
Cite as:
Web Design for Dyslexic Users. Retrieved May 31, 2016 from Davis Dyslexia Association International, Dyslexia the Gift Web site: http://www.dyslexia.com/library/webdesign.htm

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This Page Last Modified: Thursday, 26 August 2010