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6 Surprising Bad Practices That Hurt Dyslexic Users

Web accessibility doesn’t only extend to color blind users, but dyslexic users too. Dyslexia is a learning disability that impairs a person’s fluency or accuracy in being able to read, write, and spell [10].

As designers, we can help dyslexic users read text better by avoiding the bad design practices that hurt them. Seeing things from their eyes can give us a better perspective on why accessible design is so important.

When dyslexic users read text, sometimes they can experience visual distortion effects [5]. These effects vary in degree from person to person, but they can make reading text that much harder.

Below are six bad practices that are likely to cause these visual distortion effects for dyslexic users. These bad practices can also make reading difficult for non-dyslexic users. But the effect they have on dyslexic users is much worse.

River Effect

Dyslexic users may sometimes see the river effect in the text they’re reading [1]. This is when large gaps occur within consecutive lines of text. It can look like a river of whitespace flowing down the words on a page. There are a couple bad practices that make the river effect happen.

1. Justified text

Justified text is not only difficult to read for dyslexic users, but for non-dyslexic users as well. This is because it creates large uneven spaces between letters and words [8]. When these spaces line up above one another, a distracting river of whitespace can appear [4].

This can cause dyslexic readers to repeatedly lose their place when reading [6]. You can avoid creating the river effect by using left-aligned text, instead of justified text for your paragraphs [2].

2. Double spacing after periods

Most of us have a habit of double spacing after periods at the end of a sentence. This practice originates from the typewriting days of the past. Typewriters used monospaced fonts back then. Because of this, people thought that double spacing after periods would make the end of sentences more distinct [9].

But single spacing after periods is enough because most websites use proportionally spaced fonts. Double spacing after a period can create “rivers” within text that make it difficult for users to find the end of sentences [9]. On the web, single spacing wins.

Blur Effect

Another kind of visual distortion effect that can occur among dyslexic users is the blur effect [1]. This is when dyslexic readers see their text blurring or swirling or together [5]. This can significantly affect a dyslexic user’s reading ability, and make reading tiring for them [7]. You can lessen this effect by avoiding a couple of bad practices.

3. Pure black text on a pure white background

There’s a reason the text you’re reading now is not pure black (#000000), and the background is not pure white (#FFFFFF). It’s because many dyslexic users are sensitive to the brightness the high contrast colors cause. This can cause the words to swirl or blur together [3].

To avoid this, use an off-white color for your background, like light gray or tan. You can also use a dark gray for your text instead of pure black to cut the glare even more.

4. Long blocks of unbroken paragraphs

Long blocks of unbroken paragraph text are not only hard for dyslexic users to read, but for non-dyslexic users too. It’s easy for dyslexic readers to lose their place with long paragraphs [1].

That’s why it’s better to use short paragraphs that express one idea [2].  This is because dyslexic users need more breaks between ideas than non-dyslexic users [6]. Breaking up your text to one idea per paragraph makes reading a lot easier for both dyslexic and non-dyslexic users.

Washout Effect

Sometimes dyslexic users can experience the washout effect. When this happens, the text looks faint and indistinct [5]. This can make reading slower and cause dyslexic users to guess what a word is because of the difficulty seeing it. To lessen this effect, there are two bad practices you should avoid with your text.

5. Serif fonts

Serif fonts have hooks at the ends of the letter strokes. They may look decorative, but they can cause reading problems for dyslexic users. Serifs tend to obscure the shapes of letters, making the letters run together [1].

But a sans-serif font would allow dyslexic users to see the shapes of letters clearer. This is because a lack of hooks increases the spacing between letters and makes them more distinguishable [6].

6. Italicized text

Italics are sometimes used to highlight text. But you shouldn’t use italicized text because they make letters hard to read. The letters have a jagged line compared to non-italic fonts. The letters also lean over making it hard for dyslexic users to make out the words [6].

When the text size is small, italicized text is even more illegible [3]. A better way to highlight is to use bold text because the letters are clearer and give better contrast.

Accessibility for All

Many users suffer from dyslexia and have trouble reading text. You should make your website accessible to everyone by fixing these bad practices. You got a glimpse of how dyslexic users experience the web. It’s not easy to get information when you read with visual distortion. Everyone has the right to information, whether they’re dyslexic or not.

Sources

1. http://www.angelfire.com/tn3/writing/DesignUsersReadDis.pdf

2. http://clearhelper.wordpress.com/2009/12/14/web-site-design-suggestions-for-people-with-dyslexsia

3. http://www.dyslexia-parent.com/mag35.html

4. http://www.pws-ltd.com/sections/articles/2009/justified_text.html

5. http://irlen.com.sg/irlen.html

6. http://dyslexiahelp.umich.edu/sites/default/files/good_fonts_for_dyslexia_study.pdf

7. http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/about-dyslexia/further-information/eyes-and-dyslexia.html

8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justification (typesetting)

9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_spacing_at_the_end_of_sentences

10. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyslexia


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Article written by anthony

Author and founder of UX Movement. Creating a more humane world for users by teaching others how to practice UX the right way through principled design techniques.

This Post Has 90 Comments

  1. Maurice Reply

    #5 Is interesting i always wondered why I prefered sans serif fonts

    • Onica Reply

      I suggest that you should avoid serif fonts because is hard to read for people who have Dyslexia

  2. Juanlu001 Reply

    I’ve never heard that justified text was also bad for non-dyslexic users… I’ll keep an eye on that from now. Thank you very much

  3. Lambrecht Régine Reply

    Usefull data. There is too few research about web and dyslexia.

  4. Taylor Reply

    Thanks for this! I’m semi-dyslexic and I never even thought about it before!

  5. Matt Hill Reply

    Regarding #2, double space after a period: HTML collapses all white space down to a single space in the rendering, so even if you pasted in a document with extra spaces, it should only display as one space in normal circumstances.

    • Christophe Reply

      Not if you use HTML white space entity (‘ ‘)

      An other option is to use ‘word-spacing’ and ‘text-indent’ CSS property to add an extra space between words and sentences

    • Matt Reply

      Word vigorously attempts to preserve double-spaced sentences when text is copied into WYSIWYG editors, resulting in pairs of “normal” and nonbreaking spaces between each sentence. So if your CMS or blog tool uses a WYSIWYG editor & and you write your draft in Word, it’s all too easy to double-space after periods on the web.

  6. Kate Russell Reply

    Thanks for this. I am trying to get our users to think about all kinds of accessibility issues, but I hadn’t even considered that italics would be a problem for some. I will now!

  7. Leanne Reply

    Interesting info. What frustrates me as a dyslexic is the absence of spell check.

    • Joe Reply

      Most browsers nowadays have spell check. Are you saying websites should implement it as well?

      • Marcus Tucker Reply

        Agreed – as with text resizing controls, these are basic features that are typically needed by users on EVERY site that they visit, which is precisely why it makes no sense for each site to spend time and money implementing them in their own way.

        Instead, by using a decent browser’s native support (or via an extension) for spellchecking and text resizing, the end user can have a consistent experience across every site that they use, which includes having a custom dictionary that follows you around, and websites across the web can spend their limited time & resources on their content instead.

  8. Jonny Dyslexic Reply

    Black websites…..They make my head spin long after I have left them.

  9. Michael Grafl Reply

    That’s a great roundup you’ve assembled there! I suffer from neither color blindness nor dyslexia, but I’m always curious about how I can make text more legible for people who aren’t as lucky as I am. Will print this out and save it for future reference.

  10. Ed Reply

    These tips aren’t so much tips for designing for dyslexic users as tips for designing for _any_ users. Good design for non-dyslexics is good design for dyslexics – although, possibly, the effects might be more pronounced.

    I think the diagrams here are only likely to lead to unhelpful simplification of dyslexia. Dyslexia is a cognitive problem and the diagrams might lead people to think it’s a visual problem: “What dyslexic users _see_”.

    Point 5 suggesting that serifs are problematic and decorative is probably also a simplification. Serifs can add a lot to typefaces adding emphasis to the letters shapes – the problems come when setting serif typefaces at small sizes on low resolution screen where the details of the serifs cannot be resolved. Use 16pt or larger Georgia for example and it’ll be as easy to read as any sans-serif typeface.

    In conclusion – make sure your text is designed for readers not the designer and everyone will thank you. (Oh, and the text on this site is too small!)

    • Sherry Reply

      Yes, dyslexia is a “cognitive” or “neurological” issue, but on the flip side, I appreciate the attention being drawn to the visual side of this- “what dyslexics see.” Having 2 dyslexic children (almost all grown) we encounter people who think that learning how to read should solve all their “problems”, but these issues with text and visual perception affect their lives everyday, causing dizziness, difficulty in test taking, transposing information from one place to another- think math tests and scantron for starters.

      Thanks for drawing attention to this.

      And yes, my younger daughter says that what’s good for dyslexics is good for all of us!

    • Holly Reply

      Ed,
      I dont think you have dyslexia, and I dont know what normal people see, but I have some thoughts about
      “Dyslexia is a cognitive problem and the diagrams might lead people to think it’s a visual problem”

      Its not a cognitive problem
      Most dyslexics are highly intelligent with good cognition
      ‘Cognitive’ is often used to describe the quality of thinking, as in ‘Altzheimers people have poor cognitive function’

      Its not a visual problem
      Most dyslexics have normal vision, in contrast with someone whose eyes have been injured so they cannot focus well on near objects.

      Its a symbol processing problem
      Most dyslexics are not aware that anything weird is happening when they read. As kids do, they think what they see is what everybody sees. However, the lucky ones who figure out a workaround for the letter reversals and the changes in letter sequence within a word must work 5 times harder than their normal classmates before they understand what the rest of the class does.

      For the dyslexic, who hasn’t a clue what normal people see, it feels like a visual problem. So you get your eyes checked and its all OK. But the problem is still there; your brain does the interpreting before you are aware of what you are looking at.

      For example, some pages are so horrible in optical effects , they cause me pain: extreme contrast effects can lead to migranes. The page may flash on and off until I have to stop before I get dizzy or sick in the stomach.

      Especially when Im tired, I will read a different word somewhat like the real one.It makes so little sense that I have to stop and re-read. When the highway exit signs start being silly, I go get coffee. Its a shock when this happens because its unpredictable. I broke out in a cold sweat after reading a sign as ‘Snakes & Burgers’ when it was really ‘Shakes & Burgers’.

      As an anology to what it feels like:
      You sit in front of a computer screen to do some work while moving strobe lights go off at random. It takes hard work to read while your eyes are pounded with intense light. It gets harder to read as your eyes get tired and harder than usual to understand the topic so you wander off for some coffee.

      I particularly despise “accessible” site that are all text, especially two column sites where something short and cryptic is in the thin left column and long lines of single spaced text run across the rest of the page. My eye doesnot follow to the next line so I read it all over. Such pages are hard to look at and almost impossible to understand. Even if I figure it out the information is hard to recall.

      When I understand something, I dont gradually build it out of doing simple steps and moving on to more advanced ones. Instead, I need to know the big picture first to make sense of the details.

      For example, math class starts out with arithmetic which has many symbols, each of which guides how the problem is solved. If you forget whether you are adding and subtract a few, or the digits change places, or 2 looks like 5, the process resembles walking through a fun house in total darkness. Doing arithmetic problems feels unnerving and unpredictable; doing the same thing gets different results, each more likely to be wrong than correct.

      I visualize to understand.
      I have been working to learn Open source programming, where documentation is text only and the content doesn’t translate easily to pictures. Its hard to learn and hard to retain compared to proprietaru software documentation which is written to gain and keep customers.

      Its so frustrating to try and fail when others seem to do just fine.

      How about a little help here for making sites understandable?

      Holly

      • Beka Reply

        Holly,
        Being a dyslexic I totally agree with you.

        • Holly Reply

          Thank you, Beka

          I’m taking a Python class now and it’s become blazingly obvious that I may or may not introduce errors into the script I’m writing without the slightest idea it is happening.

          1. using IDLE, I open a new file to paste good code into and another file to use for testing code.

          ex. My code has tested as working, so I copy the code and paste it into the script window
          errors:
          1. I copy some, but not all of the lines. I find out when ‘variable xxx does not exist’ pops up
          2. Whitespace is king in python. If I add or lose a space this may introduce a syntax error
          3. I am in the testing window and I type in a line of python that errors out. I cant find the error even though I’m carefully reading through the script. I see the code, but process what I read into something familiar and wrong
          4.My quotes surround the string however they are different kinds, ‘string”
          5. each time I switch from looking at the test window to the code window, I lose my place.
          6. the harder I try, the more likely I am to overwhelm and/or make errors
          7. digits in a number appear in the the wrong position. I read 123 and copy it as 312
          8. letters in a word change position. I read head and write it as deah
          9. Visual distortions may make the screen appear to blur, twitch and become unreadable

          A fact:
          I cant add up a column of numbers the same way twice. When I found out computers could take in numbers and do perfect arithmetic, I learned to program 🙂
          I visualize concepts.

          Solution:
          Make the computer application check for errors so I am not chasing them down and not seeing what is wrong

          Dont switch my attention between two different windows
          Dont copy and paste line by line
          Dont stop, look things up and then have to find my place again

          Use an IDE that shows me autocompletion, allows lookups of functions etc as needed without me having to move away from the single window to some other window

          WingIDE is the only python IDE I have found -so far- that makes it practical for me to write python

      • John Bickelhaupt Reply

        I recall reading somewhere that statistics regarding the incidence of dyslexia vary according to what language the individual reads.

        • Alex Reply

          It is more likely to be that some countries have spent more time evaluating the status of their readers. Some countries are slower to acknowledge any issues in their education system. The average seems to be about 10% and upwards, even if initially its predicted to be lower.

          Personally, I’d like to see sites include a select text function or a “read to me” function for either selected text or the whole page. The ability to hear what is written makes the site barrier free to a person with dyslexia. Not all dyslexics read slowly, but to those who do, it’s good to be able to take some of the struggle out of it.

  11. Ryan McGowan Reply

    Another way to increase readability is increasing font size….I don’t know why you are using a 12px font. 15 or 16 looks much better!

  12. Chevas Reply

    I know that font sizes can be adjusted with browser zoom, but increasing the default font size is helpful too. 12px Helvetica/Arial across 600 pixels of width is not as effective as at least 14, 16, or even 18px.

    • Chris F.A. Johnson Reply

      The only sensible font size for body text is 100% (or 1em). This is the user’s default size, which, presumably, is set to the most readable size.

      Neither 14px or 16px is large enough for me to read comfortably.

      For other viewers, 12px may be more effective.

    • bh2 Reply

      The problem with relying on browser zoom is that those most likely to need it are those who are more elderly — and therefore also least likely to be aware of browser zooming.

      A pair of +/- buttons set to float top right in a large body of text is more likely to be seen (and curiosity more likely to make them discoverable for their intended use).

      Type size matters, yes. But so does font line weight. After age 40 or so, vision tends to become more “blurry” as the retina detaches (and eventually floats free). This affects 100% of people as they age, unlike dyslexia. But combined, the challenges are compounded.

  13. barney Reply

    Hi, I have understood everything this article explains, but I can’t say I agree with doing all of these things when designing a website.

    All these recommendations should be put to the companies making the web browsers for a “dyslexic mode” where these things can be turned on and off (e.g. undo justified text, italic replaced with bold, not using serif fonts, decrease font colour-background colour contrasts etc). Web browser makers can easily handle these things FOR ALL WEBSITES, not just those that understand the reasons behind it.

    Meanwhile, the web page makers just need to be aware of some of the more stylistic choices, such as avoiding long blocks of unbroken paragraphs, which is a good idea for everyone. Also webpages should generally avoid hard-coded font sizes, font names, font display properties etc and rely on the generic HTML styling that can then be overridden by a browser as per above.

  14. Tepic Reply

    Interesting, but a few points. Technically,it is fully justified text that is difficulty (and not just for dyslexic users!). Right or left justified text should be fine.

    Serf or san-serif is an interesting one. San-serif is used in documents people do not want you to comprehend, such as contracts and small print. Serif print is easer to comprehend as a whole, so is used in documents people want you to understand. This is a very well understood and used concept that has been used for many decades after extensive research. So there is a trade-off for dyslexic readers, have text that is easier to read, or text that is easier to comprehend – not an easy decision.

    • Philip Reply

      Sans serif. ‘Sans’ means ‘without’ in French.

      This is a curious assertion: “San-serif is used in documents people do not want you to comprehend, such as contracts and small print.”

    • GeoNOregon Reply

      re: “do not want you to understand”

      Sorry, but you are exaggerating the serif v san-serif comprehension issue.

      A BASIC tenet learned in graphic design/layout/desktop publishing, whatever it is called now a days is san serif fonts take longer for the brain to process.

      on the other hand, the brain has a much easier time reading seif fonts.

      Now, don’t take this to the extreme. Old English fonts ARE an extreme. They can have such elaborate serifs they can become nearly unreadable. At the other end of the spectrum are ballon fonts or some such other san serif.

      This tenet is based on the mainstay fonts of the printing industry: helvetica and times. Serious, professional layout experts don’t use ‘circus’ fonts.

      Headlines and titles should be in san serif. It causes the brain to slowdown and concentrate on the title, it reads it more slowly. That equals better comprehesion.

      Text should be laid out in a serif font. The brain processes the characters more easily, allowing a reader to zip right along and experience less fatigue.

      If text books or other educational material is done in san serif fonts, the comprehension will drop off dramatically. Grades will drop, students will not absorb the material as well. They will fatigue more easily.

      I think you have confused the concept of ‘small/fine print’ in legal documents with this suggestion.

      When a large amount of ‘legalese’ needs to be included in a document, it is frequently reduced to a small font for the sake of page space. As a font gets very small, it becomes harder to read. At small point sizes, san serif fonts are easier to read. The lack of serifs causes more distinctness between the font and the white space.

      I have known a LOT of attorneys in my life, I have heard a lot of them talk about devious things done, (not BY them, but heard of by them). I have never heard any of them talk about using font to make something not understandable.

      They don’t need to. If an attorney doesn’t want a lay person to understand a document, all they have to do is go over-board with the therefore, heretoafters, and subsequent to, notwithstandings and 90% of the US population will be lost after two sentences.

      While well intended, the suggestion to switch to san serif font in text for the sake of people suffering with dyslexia would be MORE detrimental than helpful.

      It is based on a lack of knowledge &/or experience. I counsel anyone reading this to do their OWN research before you adopt the practice.

  15. Mark Reply

    You also need to pay attention to type size. So many sites make the font too small. Sorry but this includes you.

    http://www.wilsonminer.com/posts/2008/oct/20/relative-readability/

  16. Rob Mills Reply

    This is great info, thank you. I wasn’t aware that pure black text on pure white caused problems but I will keep that in mind.

    Out of curiousity how does bold text impact dyslexic users or perhaps the default blue for hyperlinks?

    • Savannah Reply

      I am one that is plagued with the inability to read black on white. I use the description that the “words move around” It is difficult to keep my place and I find myself squinting and reading the same sentence a few times before finally finding the next one. >.<

  17. Hugo Reply

    I don’t agree that everything here is bad practices. Serif fonts are not necessarily harder to read than sans serif fonts (it depends which fonts you use, which size etc.) quite the contrary for long texts.

    What’s powerful about the web, is that if dyslexic users don’t like it, they can fix some things themselves! Just develop an extension for firefox that format all texts to make them easier for dyslexics, and you’re done!

    • MG Reply

      I just have to say, as a dyslexic who has tried using the Firefox toys to override site formatting, it’s rarely useful. Sure, you can alter font color and size and background color, but it only works on some sites. Added to that, it also has the negative effects of hiding navigation buttons and graphics you need to get around in many cases.

      I’m one who has a very hard time with high contrast issues and fonts that are too small, but I also much prefer serif fonts because those little serifs help to keep the eye going with the words and make it easier to identify letters so I’m not having to stop all the time to figure out what words are because too many letters look the same when in sans serif fonts. In sans serif the letters ltfij1! all just look like sticks and aeocgqun0863 are all just basically circles. It really slows down reading to a crawl and makes typos far more likely.

      • GeoNOregon Reply

        An axiom I learned 50 years ago when being taught how to do layout prior to printing was use san serif for titles and headlines as the brain must slow down to read it, hence better comprehesion of SHORT phrases.

        Text, the body of any document over a sentence in length should be done in serif fonts as the brain doesn’t have to work as hard to read it. Less fatigue, better comprehension of longer text.

        Think about it, ever seen a text book, (or a PROFESSIONAL digital equivalent), done in san serif? NOPE. Students would be napping like dogs on a hot day, if they did.

        BTW, another axiom I learned many years ago is all peole with dyslexia have ADD, but not all people with ADD have dyslexia. Have you ever been evaluated for ADD?

        I wasn’t diagnosed until I was almost 50 years old. It changed my life for the better when I learned about the learning disability I had my entire life and started treatment. A lifetime of questioning myself, wondering why I had the same issues over and over again, problems at work, problems in relationships.

        All could have been helped with a more open minded/modern medical profession in the 50 & 60’s. What makes it even more frustrating was I was blessed with an extremely high IQ, but all I heard my entire first 16-18 years was, “If he would only live up to his potential.”

        If you have dyslexia, have a conversation about ADD with your physician. Ask yourself this, as well, has anyone directly related to you been diagnosed? It is highly inheritable.

        The ADD expert who taught me about ADD used to say, ‘ADD people tend to be impulsive; ADD couples make ADD babies, lots of them’.

  18. Pingback: In Case You Missed It: Braille Bracelets, Blind Builders, and Bands of Wheelchairs | Yahoo! Accessibility

  19. Genevieve Labadie Reply

    Hi!

    Love “4. Long blocks of unbro­ken paragraphs”.

    I finally get why I always make small paragraphs.

  20. Gary Reply

    I bet low contrast hurts as many people as it helps. My old eyes want as much contrast as they can get.

  21. Roxanne Ready Reply

    Thanks much for this article. I’ve been digging around online for a while trying to cobble together the various bits of info for making sites readable for dyslexics, so I appreciate the round-up.

    There seems to be a lot of debate regarding serif or sans-serif font usage. My two cents are that while research may have shown serif fonts to be more readable for many people, dyslexics face different challenges than the “average” reader. If one of those challenges is that letters run together, then it makes perfect sense that serif fonts would be a hindrance to them. On the other hand, I also hear that dyslexia affects different people in different ways, so perhaps it’s true that for some people it’s easier and some it’s harder. Not being dyslexic myself or a scholar on the subject, I have no way of knowing.

    Another interesting consideration outside that of serif/sans-serif is whether to use so-called “infant characters” or “double story” characters. The former are letters like “a” which are written without the extra tier, just basically a circle with a line down one side, instead of the little roof on top. I would imagine using non-infant characters would make letter distinction easier for dyslexic readers — but again, I have no way of knowing if I’m right. Perhaps they add confusion instead.

    I suppose what it boils down to is the need for more well-publicized, large-scale research into this. I’m really quite amazed how up-in-the-air the whole thing is this many years into the Web.

  22. Julie Davenport Reply

    Apart from being visually clear it is also very informative; funny how the simplest of changes can have a dramatic effect on both the dyslexic and non-dyslexic reader.

    Many Thanks.

  23. Polenth Reply

    Though I do find black-on-white can start swimming and blurring, making the text slightly off grey or making the background light grey actually makes it worse for me. What sorts it for me is a colour tint in the background (yellow or tan is best) with black text. Using colours elsewhere on the page (headings, etc) also helps keep the text stationary.

    This is why my blog has a yellowy-tan background, and my black-on-white website has coloured headings and a coloured border around the text. I can look at both without text blurring.

    This won’t be true of all dyslexics, but I do know others who find colour tints (rather than grey-scale tints) and coloured dividers more comfortable.

  24. pbz1912 Reply

    I’m dyslexic.

    I find smaller text much easier to read than larger text. But you do need a shorter line length.

  25. Mike Reply

    “There’s a rea­son the text you’re read­ing now is not pure black (#000000), and the back­ground that it’s on is not pure white (#FFFFFF).”

    Okay, I can see that and now I know what they AREN’T, but what ARE they? What are the codes for the colors you are using for the article?

    • nomadsolo Reply

      The text color is #333333, but the background color is, in fact, #ffffff – pure white – the author missed that one.

      • anthony Reply

        I changed the background to white and made the text lighter to balance the contrast. There’s just something about a white background that makes everything look cleaner.

  26. Alan De Smet Reply

    Here’s a good way to improve readability for everyone: Don’t set the font size! Users can set the font size that is comfortable for them in their web browser settings. Setting a custom font size just about ensures that your text will be hard to read for many people. Sure, they can use the zoom controls to try and compensate, but it’s a crude solution and needs to be applied on every web site. Why use a crude solution when a good solution, respect the user’s font size, already exists. On that note, I found myself cursing your little fonts and the resulting eye strain.

  27. Julián Reply

    Very interesting, thank you!

  28. Andrew Reply

    I often get swimmy with black text on a white background, i think the line-height and text- spacing attributes tend to make things a bit better. I have to say its hard to find a happy medium when trying to get a nice color scheme that is also easy to read for people with dyslexia.

  29. Suzanne Reply

    Just reading this website hurt my eyes. I had to block out the examples in order to understand your content. Thanks for explaining my difficulty with websites. As a web programmer I can make these changes.

  30. MicroAngelo Reply

    Great article, and a lot of good tips – as others have said, for both dyslexic and non-dyslexic users.

    However, now that web fonts are working across pretty much all browsers it is possible to have nice non-automatically-generated italics, which avoids the problem of nasty jagged edges and illegibility… provided you choose the font wisely and remember to include the italic version of your font in your web font package.

  31. Paul Reply

    Ok, good read, but not using a high contrasting foreground/background colour scheme is not good practice for your much more common generic user also… Your mobile app uses black on white.

    The benefits of using higher contrast if your target audience is not just the dyslexic community outweighs the negative. I’ll make sure to adhere to the rest in future practices though (only usually occasionally italicise keywords)

  32. Abby Reply

    This is very interesting…although I had to laugh, when I clicked on the first reference link, the document titled: “Document Design for Users with Reading Disorders.” It’s ALL justified text, which is the #1 no-no listed!

    Ironic, no?

  33. Fernette Eide Reply

    Thanks for this article. For more about the basic science of some of visual crowding issues of dyslexics, may be you’d like to see this article: http://www.journalofvision.org/content/9/4/14.full

    Many of your suggestions are right on. What complicates the matter is that some dyslexics prefer serif fonts, while others prefer sans serif. Visual crowding is difficult for almost all though.

    Some of the fonts that are popular among dyslexics are Comic sans, Calibri, Times new roman – some like adjusting character spacing to reduce visual stress, and many like to change font color and background.

  34. Alison Reply

    This is really interesting as we’ve been looking into accessibility a lot recently and through a client have even consulted with an organisation that assists partially sighted people.

    Best practices dictate that we adhere to many of your points already but some points (particularly #3) directly contradict what we’ve been told by a consultant who is partially sighted themselves.

    Accessibility means different things to different groups and finding a balance is proving to be tricky.

  35. zebbadiah Reply

    Interesting comments. I discovered I have a form of dyslexia at 58 when I returned to Tafe to retrain myself. Then all the learning difficulties memories came flooding back. I have been self employed for nearly 40 years in building contracting and services industry. I am attempting to switch to computer systems and web design to degrade gracefully down to my retirement in about 30 years time. My issues are not visual but learning and retaining. I approach everything backwards. I visualise the end result then walk back along the track till I find what I need to make it happen. I am interest in finding a learning style and documenting it to assist others to make their journey easier. Anyone in the forum that can point me in that specific direction?
    thanks, Zeb.

  36. Finnur Forvitni Reply

    I am currently looking to improve our website for accessibility. Appreciate your article very much.

    A really impressive website is http://www.london2012.com for the Olympics that will take place this summer. Their site has so many options that I’m envious:)

    The normal style sheet has 3 different text sizes, normal, larger and even larger. It is also possible to skip directly to the content. And by installing a piece of software there is a possibily to have the site read out. And finally there are the High Visibility Style Sheet and
    Dyslexic Style Sheet.

    And yes the Dyslexic Style Sheet has an off-white background. How black the font is, I don’t know.

  37. Andy Dalziell Reply

    Great advice! I’d like to add that some of these visual difficulties that you have outlined can occur because the visual and vestibular information along the VOR (Vestibulo-Ocular Reflex arc) does not synchronise with the other proprioceptive information. Improving these sensory links can further reduce the stresses you have outlined. Physical intervention is one way of helping address the disintegration.

  38. ebeh Reply

    I am dyslexic and some websites are really hard to read. I do not like it when people use double spaces after periods.

  39. Richard Salzman Reply

    While it may be true for some dyslexics, I take issue with number 5. (Serif fonts)– in favor of suing non-serif fonts for legibility.

    For body text, maybe in print even more then on the screen, I generally prefer the (functional) serif fonts and believe they make the individual characters easier to comprehend and the words and sentences easier to read.

  40. Marian Reply

    I was assigned to tutor a new student in basically all of her subjects. When she arrived and i asked her to look up some vocabulary words in her book, she struggled. After several minutes she told me that she sees the lines of text in her books are all compressed. Basiciall that she cannot see any spaces between words, and the letters themselves are crammed together. While she can work hard and pick out easy words of 3-5 letters, she gets lost trying to find words of 6+ characters.

    Can anyone tell me if this Is a special type of dyslexia that I can research to find aids to help her? Is this possbily a true eye or vision problem, and not dyslexia at all?

  41. Allan Hytowitz Reply

    We have discovered a color/contrast perception difference when used to compare the detection of a Green-on-White Dyop™ image versus an identically sized Blue-on-Black Dyop™ image.

    Individuals with dyslexia-type symptoms can preferentially see the Blue-on-Black Dyop™ rotation.

    The correlation of chromatic aberrations provides a rational explanation for dyslexia-type behavior based upon green being the predominant color for near-image focusing (i.e., reading).

    The test takes about 10 seconds to use and is free on-line at: http://www.dyop.org/documents/ColorScreening.html

    We would look your feedback as to our discovery.

    Allan Hytowitz
    Allan@Dyop.org
    678-893-0580
    ference

  42. Michael Dillehay Reply

    The major misconception about those of us with dyslexia is that it is a “learning disability”, it is a different information processing style. Dyslexics such as myself have a superior grasp of spatial awareness than non-dyslexics. Reading and writing rely on 2D information, moving from right to left. Dyslexics minds work more in a three dimensional way and wants to go in multiple directions at once rather than in one direction. It is NOT a learning disability, it is simply a different style of information processing that weakens one area and gives you a superior advantage in another area. When more people realise this and learn to use that information to help dyslexics rather than gelding us back, the situations that a lot of us with dyslexia go through will go a lot smoother.

    • Beka Reply

      Michael,
      I never thought about dyslexia that way. I guess that since everyone that I’ve talked to about dyslexia always said that it was a learning disability I never gave it a second thought that maybe it could be something else. I like your way of thinking.

      • Sheena McCullagh Reply

        Beka, it is a specific learning disability. Many of us are way above average IQ.

        A learning disability means low IQ and generally has problems learning.

        A specific learning disability means that we can learn, but need to be taught, and have information presented, in specific ways.

  43. Tanya Reply

    As a teacher I found this information VERY helpful. I will use it to restructure how I write homework assignments and to consider when my students who have dyslexia find certain assigned texts to be frustrating to read.
    The effect of paper color was very interesting to think about and very easy to implement.

    Thank you!

  44. natalie Reply

    I am dyslexic, so are my three children, and lots of other family members. Unfortunately nothing of the above seems relevant to us. However double space at the end of a sentence helps keep track of where you are and also defines the end of the sentence, making text easier to follow.

  45. Martin Reply

    After reading an enormous amount of (very boring) research about dyslexia and fonts, I decided to purchase one for my work. Unfortunately, the vast majority of available fonts did not follow the research. So, my colleagues and I (all owners of education practices) decided to have one developed. It took time and money but we finally got one developed that did the trick. Indeed, a couple of my friends involved in design commented on the beauty of the font. It s wonderful to find something that satisfies tyne technical need as well as the aesthetic one.
    As for background colour, on the web that’s easy – in the real world (using paper) it is ever more difficult where paper manufacturers insist on bleaching paper ever whiter. Damn them! Coloured paper is approximately twice the price of of white paper and, seeing how much paper we use in our practice, it is impractical to swap over.

  46. Sheena McCullagh Reply

    I’m dyslexic, I also have scotopic sensitivity. In 3 you say not to use black on white, then in 4 talk about the wash-out effect without seeming to realise that what you recommend in 3 actually causes the wash-out effect.

    The best solution is no background and no text colours to be specified. Those of us that need specific colours will have our computers set to what we need. Specifying any colours mean we have to work in over-ride, which often makes the page lay-out fall over.

    For myself I need a bright white background. Black on bright white I can cope with, but my ideal is blue on bright white

    Grey on off white is a real, real nightmare.

    It looks like you’ve taken the print guidelines and applied them to electronic media – that is not good.

    Read the first two sufficient techniques of the first requirement of 1.4.8 on WCAG 2.8.

  47. Nyra Reply

    Hello. i’m Nyra, i am 17 years old, and i have dyslexia. when i was in kindergarten and the first grade they made me sit down and read with books and flash cards. By the time i was in the third grade, i had become the fastest reader in my class. but i still to this day have problems spelling things right, reading things right, and comprehending sentences. i love to read, even though it is hard, and have now gotten to the point where i can read a book the size of breaking dawn in 24 hours. but i think another thing should be added to this list. for those of you out there who insist on abbreviating everything you type into text chat, keep in mind, that is very hard for dyslexic people to read at times. if you know dyslexic people and talk to them through typing or texting. be considerate and write it out because you taking your time to do so, makes it easier for us. Thank you.

  48. Charles Reply

    I personally find gray text tiring to read. I can make it more readable by zooming the text, but that often causes website designs to fall apart or require me to scroll horizontally to read paragraphs as text is pushed off the screen.

    You also don’t recommend a specific gray level, for example, #444 vs. #222 vs. #111. #222 doesn’t bother me, but the #4c4c4c you’re using is starting to be work. It’s definitely bothering me on the comments section with the additional gray background, so I’ve used an add-on to set everything to black on white.

    Most monitors allow you to set brightness and contrast. Black and white are consistent across websites, as well as other applications such as Word or Excel. My personal opinion is keep things in black and white and let the end user (me) set their monitor to their preferred brightness and contrast.

    Contrast settings on monitors are probably easier to deal with than add-ons, and don’t present security implications. I’m viewing this on Firefox, which I use for websites that require an add-on, while trying to keep Chrome and Safari add-on-free so as to keep them more secure.

    • Karen Reply

      I wish I could agree that what’s good web-design for people with dyslexia is good for everyone. But this discussion and my own experience convince me that there is no easy answer.

      There are simply too many individual variations in how we perceive type on the page/screen. Thank you, everyone, for heightening my own awareness of these differences among us!

      In my own case, I find gray type on any color background difficult to read, even when I increase the font size. White or gray type on dark background is equally bad. (I’m in my 60s, have been very near-sighted all my life, not dyslexic.)

    • MG Reply

      You don’t need and add-on if you know how to use Windows settings. As a dyslexic photographer I have to keep my monitor settings consistent so colors are shown correctly so I use the windows display settings to override whatever it can and show backgrounds in tan and the font in a dark brown. This works for all the Microsoft Office programs and any web page that doesn’t have its own setting defined (unfortunately that’s really rare now).

      Not everything has to be grey tone. In fact grey tones can easily be as bad if not worse than high contrast if both background and font are grey.

      A key thing to really have though is a way to make sure that fonts on a screen will stay smooth when you zoom in to enlarge them. Too many times you zoom in and things just get blurrier because they’re not set to focus. When that happens you’re just looking at pixels instead of letters.

  49. Charles Reply

    After some testing with the add-on, which offers me #333 in addition to #000, I’m finding #333 over #fff to be the most comfortable at a text zoom of 150%. Again, I have my monitor set to the #fff that I like. That said, individuals with low vision may have requirements that differ from other individuals with low vision, and it’s not up to the website to second-guess this, only to stay out of our way and not put up barriers.

  50. John Hayes Reply

    Visual issues seeing text do define visual dyslexia but not dyslexia. See Right Dyslexia glasses are universal multi-wavelength optical filters that help all visual dyslexics remove described visual problems that make reading difficult. Dyslexics without visual problems seeing text as causal for reading difficulties can not expect the glasses to be beneficial as they have no visual problems to remove.

    Visual dyslexics are generally diagnosed as dyslexic because of similar difficulties reading but visual dyslexic usually are not helped by the educational interventions because that does nothing to address the visual issues.

    More info about visual dyslexia is available at dyslexiaglasses.com/visualdyslexiasolution .

  51. Ammy Reply

    I am blown away by this!
    I didn’t realise how hard it is for me to read pure black on pure white but when I switched to another website I realised how much more I enjoyed reading these colours.

    Thank you. 🙂

  52. Philip Reply

    RE “Serif fonts…may look decorative…tend to obscure the shapes of letters, making the letters run together”

    Serifs were never created to be ‘decorative’ but to make letters run into word groups on Roman inscriptions. This was to aid reading, a functional intent. Roman monumental inscription lettering differed from ‘vulgar’ scripts so required such an innovation. There’s more to it, but I won’t carp.

    Ordinarily, sans serif typefaces are harder to read, especially in bodycopy, because word groups are more loosely packed. Sans serif was an industrial revolution (the mechanical age) invention, intended for signs and hoardings.

  53. Jules Reply

    No.3 is most problematic to me – as it seems to justify grey text on white background.
    “There’s a reason the text you’re reading now is not pure black ..”

    Personally I find grey text on white to be a strain to read. I want to skim fast to minimise glare – but with grey text I miss stuff forcing me to re-read – so taking longer…
    …. or leaving altogether.

    My screen is set to 30% brightness – but still too many site have acres of empty (glaring) white space – compounded by over-large line-spacing and space around paragraphs or panels.
    If the text is grey text it’s hard work.

    I really don’t see what the problem with black is.

    If there is a tiny minority who don’t like too much contrast, perhaps the second sentence is the way to go.
    “use an off-white color for your background, like a light gray or tan”

    Lastly, this site doesn’t help by having an over-large font, so to reduce unwanted scrolling I reduce the browser zoom to 80% – which leaves a HUGE (glaring) white space down the right side.

  54. Bill Reply

    off white backgrounds;

    I always set my computer’s background colour to tan instead of the default white.
    Now Windows 10 wont let you personalize the ‘paper’ colour.

    Anybody know how to do this ?

  55. Lee James Reply

    After reading this I almost wonder if I’m slightly dyslexic. I find it very easy to lose my place and have always disliked justification, long paragraphs and tight tracking. (I also hate wide columns, but the article didn’t mention that.)

  56. Chris Norgate Reply

    can anyone explain why before I get the word swirls whilst reading all the ink turns deep red on the page where I’m looking? its like I have a red torch in my eyes as where I am looking (at the black words on the page) there is like a red circle of words – then they fall apart and blur up and start moving.

    Older novels and paperwork are notorious for this, haven’t had it so bad recently but some new office work sheets are sending my eyes so bad I cry all day at work.

    Any ideas?

    • Alex Reply

      It’s probably the white percentage in the paper. A pure white is a fairly new thing in printing. Using blue light cancelling glasses eg: screen use glasses with no vision correction can take the edge off the glare.

  57. Joe Reply

    Sometimes we have no choice but to use some of these conventions, such as double spaces after periods, at work. In the military, our correspondence has to be formatted a specific way, and some of the practices listed here are part of that formatting.

  58. Nathanael Reply

    This is the easiest to read website I’ve ever come across, really useful information too. I also like the way that you refer to “dyslexic users” rather that “dyslexics” – thank you 🙂

  59. Chelsea Reply

    Sometimes when I’m typing fast, I mix the letters around. Earlier, I was trying to type “black” and I spelt it as bclak, blkca and blakc before I finally spelt it correctly. This happens to me a lot when I am typing but not as frequent when I am writing.

  60. Lash Reply

    Hey, just one question:

    If we use hyphenation and then justify, would it still be bad?

    lash.

  61. Sarah Smith Reply

    We just found out that my son is dyslexic, which really should have been noticed earlier considering he has been having trouble reading for the past three years. Now that he’s been diagnosed, we’re trying to find the best way to help him learn to read and assimilate information. Your information that double-spacing after periods can make dyslexic people find it difficult to see the end of a sentence is very helpful. I’ll make sure to avoid that in future and ask his teachers to do the same.

  62. Andrew Culverhouse Reply

    The paragraph:
    “Italics are sometimes used to highlight text. But you shouldn’t use italicized text because they make letters hard to read. The letters have a jagged line compared to non-italic fonts. The letters also lean over making it hard for dyslexic users to make out the words [6]. ”

    Made this hard to read, it is something to do with the spacing on line 3 at the beginning and then the “read. The letters” specifically the “d. T” has an unusual spacing (its almost like double spacing) and does something to my eyes which makes them jump up and right this is also similar to what you called the river effect, this can actually be triggered in 2 ways, on is that on while background all you see is the white pattern and you can no longer track the sentence or even see the words as easily as you should be able to, the second which was more accurate in this case is that the page fractured. It took me 2 goes to read and re focus on the lines because the text looked like this to me when I hit that point (ill see if I can format this).

    Italics are sometimes used to highlight text. But you shouldn’t use italicized text because they make letters hard to read. The
    you shouldn’t use italicized text because they
    make letters hard to read. The letters have a jagged line compared to non-italic fonts. The letters also lean over making it hard for dyslexic users to make out the words [6].Italics are sometimes used to highlight text. But you shouldn’t use italicized text because they make letters hard to read. The letters have a jagged line compared to non-italic fonts. The letters also lean over making it hard for dyslexic users to make out the words [6].

    If the formatting holds this should give you an idea of what it was like for me to read. Now the way I an most dyslexics will get around it will be to highlight the text as you can then read it separately from the rest of the text section by section. the rest of the article I had had no issues on, and I was actually reading it because for me, one thing you can test for dyslexia at any age is the river effect, and font / background colour. Every dyslexic I know (I was part of the SLD / SEST program in school and BDA out of school so I’ve talked to loads) suffers with the river effect in some way or other. My daughter is suffering with learning to read in a way I can empathise with (letters are handled as images not letters so, she doesn’t see the word yet, repetition isn’t helping as much as it should) so I am going to set up a page with 7 lines of text that she knows with a dyslexic unfriendly font and get her to read it on white and a coloured sheet. If I can see her doing what I do I will have to get my mum to do some testing with her a bit later on as she was a teacher and also taught classes at the BDA, hopefully I’m wrong but, well it looks too familiar to what I suffered through.

    I can see parents comments above, if I can give you 3 tips to teaching and working with your dyslexic child and one insight that seems to help others:

    1. Don’t be disappointed or frustrated with them, if they feel like its something that annoys you about them they wont want to do it, because the inference is that you are getting annoyed with them.
    2. Find something they love and teach them using that subject or material, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t fit with school it doesn’t matter if its out of their normal age group utilise the interest and you will succeed better with this than anything else (in my case it was IT and its what gave me my skills to earn money).
    3. Find a way to incorporate the learning into life, sitting down and studying more than your mates, well it sux and is like a punishment – which when added to 1 means its a punishment where your parents get angry with you, even when your trying your best!

    Also when it comes to reading please realise that they may never enjoy reading. I read all the time but never for fun. The reason it turned out after much thought is that when I read the process takes slightly more concentration than it should and although I have a good imagination I cannot read and imagen at the same time, which according to my wife and others who have never had any issues is the fun they get out of it.

  63. Ernie Gilman Reply

    Serif fonts have their own special place, though: passwords.

    I once had to deal with a password that was printed on a page where the instructions were all in a font with serifs, but the password itself was in a font with no serifs. It had a l, a I (note — those ARE NOT the same letter!), a O, and a 0. I could not compare the letters in the password with letters in the rest of the text to determine which characters I was looking at. I had to run through the various possibilities for each of those letters. Four such occurrences in a password yield 16 possible passwords.

    The entire page had perhaps four hundred characters on it, but only the ten characters of that password were in the non-serif font.

    Perhaps serifs should be reserved specifically for passwords!

    I agree that italics are a problem. They look like shouting almost as much as ALL CAPS FOR A LONG TIME looks like shouting.

  64. Teresa Reply

    As a dyslexic designer I want to add a few things:

    Never during any session with the Psychologist that tested, diagnosed and supported me, any blurring effect was referred. I have never experienced it in the periods that I can’t read properly.

    Dyslexia is how you brain interpret written information, not how your sight is doing. It is also something that changes, some days you can’t read long texts easily, in others the problem is much smaller. It helps to read and write daily as it trains the brain.

    People with dyslexia have mainly visual thought (which is not just videos and images, but mainly abstract concepts and graphs). Visual thought is much faster than verbal thought and having insufficient time for translation is one of the key frustrations to all visual thinkers, dyslexic included.

    Frustration, tiredness and stress reduce cognitive capability to all humans, in dyslexic, it worsens the verbal interpretation task

    As for serif fonts, could not disagree more.
    Actually, serif fonts and due to having serifs, makes it easier to read.
    Serif fonts got bad reputation when screen resolution was too poor to make them usable on screens.
    I see many non-sense articles offering totally crazy unreadable fonts and stating they’re better for dyslexics. They aren’t. Dyslexiefont, for example, is a pain for me.

    Thank you for the change to participate in the debate.

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