July 13 2016

Dyslexia and Web Design

The coming expansion of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into web spaces is a great leap forward for making the web friendly for all – regardless of their disability. It will go a long way to make sure most people can have the access they need to the things we take for granted, like online banking and shopping. But sometimes good isn’t good enough. While progressive web development agencies are more and more designing and developing websites to be conformant with WCAG 2.0 AA standards, many have overlooked that doing so can also benefit the millions of people who suffer from dyslexia.

What is dyslexia?
You may know it as that visual disorder where the letters flip. While that is one possible symptom, there are many more. Loosely put, it’s a series of disorders that affect the ability for someone to read or interpret written words. It is not a disorder related to intelligence. In fact, Steve Jobs and Nicola Tesla were dyslexic.

Facts about dyslexia and websites

  • Over 40 million people in the United States alone have dyslexia and only 2 million
    have been properly diagnosed.
  • Up to 10% of visitors to your website may have dyslexia and most won’t even know it.
  • Many websites are unintentionally creating a frustrating user experience for dyslexics.

What do the new ADA guidelines say about dyslexia?
WCAG 2.0 has this to say about building sites for persons with Dyslexia: Content should be written as clearly and simply as possible.

This statement doesn’t provide sufficient guidance beyond very high level concepts like ‘make text easier to read’. Given that the new ADA guidelines are unlikely to cover dyslexia sufficiently, we have reviewed numerous research papers, European web conformance guidelines, relevant regulations and case studies and have developed several best practices to guide dyslexia-conformant web design and development.

  • Use bullet lists where you can.
  • Use Sans Serif fonts.
  • Break large forms out into multiple logical pages.
  • Do not center justify text.

The last issue seems odd at first, but center justification (where spaces between words are elongated and shortened to make the text lines all begin and end at the same spot) creates a river of whitespace between words (The River Effect). This effect is one of the single biggest issues there is in the dyslexic community, and is further illustrated below. For many types of dyslexics, it renders paragraphs incomprehensible since it divides up words into pockets and phrases devoid of context and meaning. 

website dyslexia example
website dyslexia example 2

Prioritizing dyslexic audiences
Through no fault of your own, you may be frustrating your dyslexic website clientele. From common email complaints describing your site in vague terms like ‘frustrating’ and ‘confusing’, to people describing pages as containing too much information, to high rates of abandonment on large forms, many websites are unintentionally alienating dyslexic audiences.
If you are ready to learn a little more about it and see if making your site more accessible to an underserved market is a choice for you, give us a call or send us an email to start the discussion. 

  • Regs & Legislation
  • Website
  • Website Compliance

posted by
Will Creedle
Will Creedle
Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC)

ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury, CT, offering website design, development, marketing and digital strategy to clients nationwide. See current job openings.
Related Article
Best Practices for Website ADA Compliance