Bridging the Gap for Dyslexic Users through Accessibility

An illustration of a woman with colored alphabet letters floating around her head

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a neurobiological condition that affects the way the brain processes written and spoken language. It is not related to intelligence and is often hereditary. Individuals with dyslexia may experience difficulties with phonological processing, which can impact their ability to decode words and recognize them quickly.

Different Kinds of Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a spectrum disorder, and individuals may experience it in different ways. These variations can be broadly categorized into distinct types, each presenting unique challenges to reading and language processing. Here are some key types of dyslexia:

Phonological Dyslexia

Phonological dyslexia is characterized by difficulties in decoding words and recognizing the sounds associated with letters. Individuals with this type of dyslexia may struggle with phonemic awareness, making it challenging to establish the connection between letters and their corresponding sounds. This difficulty can hinder accurate and efficient reading.

Surface Dyslexia

Surface dyslexia manifests as challenges with recognizing whole words, often leading to difficulties in spelling. Individuals with surface dyslexia may struggle to visually recognize and memorize the shapes of words, making it harder for them to recall and accurately reproduce written language. This type of dyslexia emphasizes the visual aspect of word recognition.

Rapid Naming Deficit

Rapid naming deficit dyslexia is characterized by difficulties in quickly naming familiar objects or symbols. This type of dyslexia may impact the speed at which individuals can recognize and retrieve the names of visually presented information, affecting both reading and overall language processing speed.

Double Deficit Dyslexia

Double deficit dyslexia involves a combination of difficulties in both phonological processing and rapid naming. Individuals with double deficit dyslexia experience challenges in both decoding words and quickly retrieving and naming information. This combination of deficits can present additional complexities in reading and language comprehension.

Dyslexia's Impact on Digital Interactions

Individuals with dyslexia encounter specific challenges when interacting with web and mobile interfaces. These challenges can vary, affecting aspects of readability, comprehension, and overall usability. Understanding these challenges is crucial for designing digital platforms that cater to the diverse needs of users with dyslexia.

Reading and Comprehension

  • Text Density: Dyslexic individuals may struggle with dense text. Websites with lengthy paragraphs and small font sizes can be overwhelming, leading to difficulties in reading and comprehension.
  • Reading Speed: Dyslexia can affect reading speed. Users may require more time to process information, especially when presented in complex or unfamiliar formats.
  • Sequential Processing: Difficulty with sequential processing may make it challenging to follow linear content flows. Clear organization and intuitive navigation can significantly enhance the user experience.

Visual Distractions

  • Busy Designs: Complex and visually cluttered designs may distract dyslexic users. Simplifying layouts and minimizing unnecessary visual elements can help maintain focus on the content.
  • Background Contrast: Insufficient contrast between text and background colors can make it difficult for individuals with dyslexia to distinguish letters and words, impacting readability.

Language Processing

  • Multisensory Integration: Dyslexic users often benefit from multisensory input. Incorporating visual aids, such as icons or images, alongside textual content can enhance understanding.
  • Plain Language: The use of complex language or jargon may pose challenges. Employing plain language and providing clear explanations contribute to a more accessible experience.

Navigation and Interaction

  • Menu Structures: Complex menu structures can be confusing. Implementing straightforward navigation with clear labels and logical hierarchies facilitates easier exploration.
  • Interactive Elements: Users with dyslexia may struggle with rapid sequential processing, impacting response times. Designing interfaces with adjustable pacing for interactive elements can enhance usability.

Assistive Technologies

Understanding the nuanced impact of dyslexia on digital interactions is key to creating a more inclusive online environment. By addressing these challenges, designers and developers can contribute to a web and mobile landscape that accommodates the diverse abilities of users with dyslexia.

  • Text-to-speech software. This allows individuals to understand written material they are given and to proof-read or check their own work before presenting it.
  • Mind mapping software. This is specifically designed to allow children with dyslexia to plan their work more effectively and combat any confusion or stress.
  • Scanning software and hand reading pens. These allow the user to store and listen to the text in their school books and other documents.
  • Spell checkers specifically designed with dyslexia in mind. They will automatically make corrections to written communications to take away the stress of edits.
  • Tablets, smartphones, and applications. There are a wide range of hardware platforms and software applications that can help students manage their time more effectively or work in conjunction with other hardware devices such as smartpens.
  • Computer based learning programs. These are specifically written for children with dyslexia and can help to sharpen their skills in reading, writing, touch-typing, and numeracy.

The Gap in Digital Accessibility Guidelines

While there are established guidelines for digital accessibility, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), they may not comprehensively address the unique needs of individuals with dyslexia. The existing standards primarily focus on aspects like screen reader compatibility, keyboard navigation, and color contrast, overlooking specific challenges faced by dyslexic users.

Text Presentation and Formatting

  • Font Styles: The guidelines often lack specific recommendations for dyslexia-friendly fonts. Including guidance on fonts designed to improve readability for dyslexic individuals could enhance the overall accessibility of digital content.
  • Text Spacing and Line Length: Dyslexic users may find it challenging to read content with tight spacing or excessively long lines. Expanding guidelines to address optimal text spacing and line length could contribute to a more comfortable reading experience.

Multimedia and Interactive Content

  • Multimodal Content: Dyslexic individuals may benefit from content presented in multiple modalities. Expanding guidelines to encourage the inclusion of audio descriptions, transcripts, and alternative formats for multimedia content could improve accessibility.
  • Interactive Elements: Existing guidelines may not explicitly cover the pacing and interaction design considerations that can impact dyslexic users. Including recommendations for customizable interaction speeds and clear prompts could enhance the usability of interactive features.

Cognitive Load and Simplified Content

  • Content Density: The guidelines often focus on ensuring information is perceivable but may not provide specific recommendations on reducing cognitive load. Offering guidance on minimizing content density and presenting information in digestible chunks can benefit users with dyslexia.
  • Simplified Language: While plain language is encouraged, guidelines could provide more explicit recommendations for simplifying language to accommodate varying levels of reading difficulty, ensuring broader inclusivity.

Navigation and Orientation

  • Intuitive Navigation: While navigation is a fundamental aspect of accessibility, guidelines may not delve deeply into optimizing navigation for users with dyslexia. Incorporating recommendations for intuitive navigation structures and clear wayfinding can enhance the overall user experience.
  • Orientation Cues: Dyslexic users may find it challenging to maintain orientation on a page. Guidelines could include suggestions for providing clear orientation cues and landmarks to help users navigate digital spaces effectively.

Closing the gap in digital accessibility guidelines requires a more nuanced understanding of the challenges faced by individuals with dyslexia. By expanding the scope of existing standards to include these considerations, the digital landscape can evolve to be more inclusive, ensuring that everyone, regardless of their cognitive profile, can fully participate in the online experience.

Designing Accessible Digital Experiences

To create an inclusive digital experience for dyslexic users, designers and developers can implement the following strategies:

  • Readable Fonts: Choose clear, sans-serif fonts and provide options for adjusting text size.
  • Contrast: Ensure sufficient color contrast between text and background to enhance readability.
  • Simplified Layouts: Streamline designs, use concise language, and break content into manageable sections.
  • Text-to-Speech and Speech-to-Text Features: Include options for converting text to speech and vice versa to support different learning styles.
  • Dyslexia-Friendly Fonts: Consider using dyslexia-friendly fonts that are designed to improve readability for dyslexic individuals.


Digital accessibility is an ongoing effort, and it is essential to consider the diverse needs of users, including those with dyslexia. By incorporating inclusive design principles and embracing emerging technologies, we can bridge the gap and create a more accessible and welcoming online environment for everyone. As the internet continues to evolve, it is crucial to prioritize the development of digital experiences that empower individuals with dyslexia to fully engage with and benefit from the vast resources available online.