How to Design A Site For People With Dyslexia

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Designing a site for visitors with Dyslexia starts with asking ‘What Problems Would a Dyslexic User Face?

People with dyslexia frequently experience discomfort when reading because they find it more difficult to “decode” the words on the page, and can also find it difficult to remain focussed on a particular piece of text.

Some people may also have to concentrate more to remember what they have already read, which means they will tire more easily.

Web designers, developers and copywriters should keep these 17 tips in mind:

  1. Text size – the minimum recommended font size for users with dyslexia is 12pt. Printed material should always be made available at this size.
  2. Text scaling – on a website you may wish to use a default size smaller than 12pt. If so, use a font size which scales easily, such as percent (%) or em. This way users with dyslexia (or poorer vision) can adjust their own settings to increase the font size. Note that if you start with a base font size of around 80% (used by a lot of websites), Internet Explorer will allow a font size increase to over 12pt at the largest setting, but at 70%, a user with Internet Explorer will not be able to reach a font size of 12pt.
  3. Font style – use a rounded font that is easy on the eye. Use a sans-serif style font (i.e. without curly bits). Commonly used fonts for this purpose are Arial, Comic Sans, Verdana, Helvetica, Tahoma and Trebuchet. It is important to note that not every dyslexic user dislikes serif fonts: many have no problem with them provided the line spacing is sufficient.
  4. Capitalisation – avoid the use of capitalisation for emphasis. All capitals can make text more difficult to read and gives the impression of shouting.
  5. Background – an off-white background can be easier to read from than a shiny white background. Text is also harder to read on a patterned or tiled background.
  6. Spacing – use line spacing between paragraphs to break up text.
  7. Justification – don’t right justify text. This leads to variable spacing between words and can create visual patterns of white space which are difficult to ignore and are sometimes termed rivers of white, running down the page making it extremely difficult to read.
  8. Italics – avoid them. They make text more difficult to read.
  9. Paragraphs – keep them short.
  10. Use lists to bullet point items rather than presenting continuous prose. Number menu items where appropriate.
  11. Writing style – use short words where possible, and write in simple sentences. Refer to the reader as you.
  12. Navigation – ensure your navigation is simple and stays the same across the site. It is helpful to include a site map and a search facility.
  13. Moving text – this creates problems for dyslexic users and users with other visual impairments. Don’t use it.
  14. Columns – Dyslexic people find that the further text is presented from one side of the screen to the other, the more difficult it becomes to read. Ideally a column should be no more than 70-80 characters wide.
  15. Pictures – where a picture will aid comprehension, use one.
  16. Document structure – as a general rule, the more structured your document is, the easier it will be to understand. Use headings, bulleted lists, numbered lists and indented quotes where appropriate.
  17. Abbreviations – always expand the first occurrence of any abbreviation on a page. For subsequent occurrences, consider use of and elements to aid understanding.

Other Reading

If you want to procure, or design and build sites with accessibility in mind in the UK, you’ll find the following documents useful:

(The article was originally published by JackP – (and titled designing for Dyslexia.) of The Pickards who kindly allowed me (Shaun Anderson) to republish it here.)

Other resources about Dyslexia include

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