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Having a strong brand & website is what will see you apart from your competitors

5 Ways to be Dyslexic Friendly

Updated: Feb 19, 2023


Image of a muted coloured brick wall with a sign that says "accessible entry"

If you know me, you know I'm super passionate about accessibility. I don't believe that just because you struggle to read or have mobility challenges you shouldn't be able to access information. We should all be able to access knowledge and information no matter our differences and that's why accessible design is so important for businesses big and small.


For those who don't know, October is Dyslexia awareness month and dyslexia is a neurobiological condition that affects a person’s ability to read, write and spell. Being dyslexic in a neurotypical world isn't easy either (I have struggled a lot) as we're constantly having to push ourselves to function in a way that isn't normal to us. And that's because businesses don't accommodate our needs and when our needs aren't met we burn out, have breakdowns, and develop low self-esteem (not fun at all).


It's like if you were to work in Japan and everything is in Japanese and people expected you to know what they're saying. You may know a bit of Japanese but you're not really given the time or the tools to understand what they are saying properly. It's similar to dyslexia. We understand English (or your native language as it's not specific to English), however, we do struggle a lot with it and people aren't giving us information that is accessible. A common misconception is that people with dyslexia are stupid and we're not. In fact, we tend to have higher IQs but because the information isn't always dyslexic friendly we can't decode things quickly or we decode it wrong due to layout, colour, font, etc.


This is where using visual accessibility is important, by utislising visual accessibility principles can provide those with Dyslexia the same luxuries that neurotypical people have by accommodating their needs. Visual accessibility needs to be understood by all industries if society is to remove the prejudices of Dyslexia and provide equality. As society becomes more aware of the needs of those with disabilities like Dyslexia, the need for visual accessibility also grows. Unfortunately, a recurring issue is that accessible guidelines are ironically not that accessible and if you're a small business owner you don't really have the time to sit down and work out all the little rules in order to be accessible and inclusive. So how do you make sure that all potential clients are accessing your information? Accessible design doesn't have to be scary and really it's not hard to implement. Here are 5 small but key ways to make your content, both print and digital Dyslexic friendly so let's get into it!



An image with the text saying "The principles of accessible design. The ultimate FREE cheat sheet to make your content accessible to a wider audience. Never again contribute to the inaccessible content flooding your client's feed." Under the text is yellow button saying Oooo Gimme!


Fonts

If you look at any piece of marketing, you will notice that a large portion of it is made up of text, meaning that around 90% of all design is text-based and this can majorly impact a persons ability to read especially someone with dyslexia. And this is because dyslexics struggle with decoding the written language, particularly when the word is new, long or has similar sounding letters. There are 26 letters in the alphabet but there are 44 sounds and when ph sounds like f it all gets a bit confusing. So while our brain is trying to figure out if it's phone or fone it takes up too much brain power to also try and read the sentence when it's not designed to be easily decoded. Now you're probably wondering what all this means for you so let's break that down some more!


I love a good list so I've put together this handy Font must-haves:

  • Leading/ line spacing = white space between sentences should be set at between 1.5 and 2 to allow the text to breathe more. This then allows the dyslexic to clearly see the letters as some people with dyslexic merge sentences when reading like this.

  • Kerning = white space between letters. In Canva this is known as letter spacing, the goal is to just have a little more space so that it's not so tight. The key is to allow each letter and sentence space to be easily read.

  • Sizing = This is where things get a little tricky, you ideally want to go no smaller than 14pt (point) however, sometimes you need to go smaller for business cards, captions, etc. the smaller you go the more kerning/ letter spacing you will need to composenate the smaller font size.

  • Font type = It's best to avoid serifs (check out last month's blog to learn more about font types) as the little serifs create a disturbance between the letters and the negative space that you created is now gone. Try and stick to a serif like Helvetica, Courier, Arial, Verdana, and CMU which are all available on most computers,


Colour/ Background

People often think that accessible design is boring and ugly and yes some examples out there are but that's because they weren't designed in a way that included personality. Just because your wanting your brand to be more accessible and inclusive doesn't mean you then lose who you are as a business. Unlike colour blindness, Dyslexia doesn't really have a tone of rules when it comes to colour. But there are a few things to keep in mind.


Key things to remember :

  • Don't use white background with black text. The reason for this is that a lot of people with dyslexia find that the white background glows, making it nearly impossible to read. For me I find that my dyslexia symptoms are worse when I'm trying to read off a white paper that's be typed on with black, the text is more likely to merge and move on me and it's because I can't focus my eyes. A simple solution to this is slightly dark gray on a white background or off-white with black text.

  • Never put text over an image unless it has a solid colour strip directly behind the text. This is because when text is placed on an image, texture, pattern, etc. the eye can't focus on the letters and it makes it really hard to stay focused on what you should be reading.

  • Try blue paper, some dyslexics have said that documents printed on blue paper help them a lot as their eyes don't have to strain trying to read the information.


Layout

The third biggest aspect of the design is the layout, the way you organise your information can either help or hinder your audience's understanding. Dyslexics often get overwhelmed when text is presented in a giant block, when this happens our symptoms tend to get worse and the text ends up merging or moving around. Your design should always have a flow otherwise information doesn't make sense.


Key things to remember:

  • Avoid multiple columns (like in newspapers) as it breaks the flow.

  • Lines should not be too long: 60-70 characters.

  • White space is your friend, use it to remove clutter on a page.

  • Break up text with regular headings.


Illustrations/ Images

Pictures have been used since the beginning of time to communicate. Illustrations can be used to assist those with Dyslexia in understanding the subject matter by utilising colour, shape, symbolism, and tone. Because dyslexics are more likely to be visual learners due to primarily thinking in images, illustrations help remove restrictions of the condition, allowing children to follow along comfortably. Illustrations and images also break up the text as well making it easier to decode the information.


Writing style

If you've seen my posts about branding you will have seen me talk about tone of voice and writing style being important aspects of your branding. It's important that the way you write your blogs, posts, website, etc. is true to you but also easily understandable by those with dyslexia.


So how do you write for a dyslexic?

  • Be concise, avoid using long and dense paragraphs.

  • Short, simple sentences in a direct style.

  • Use images to support text.

  • Consider using bullet points to break up the text.

  • Avoid abbreviations where possible, if used provide the expanded form when first used to help the reader follow along.




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