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.
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. 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.
Dyslexic users may sometimes see the river effect in the text they’re reading. 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. When these spaces line up above one another, a distracting river of whitespace can appear.
This can cause dyslexic readers to repeatedly lose their place when reading. You can avoid creating the river effect by using left-aligned text, instead of justified text for your paragraphs.
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.
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. On the web, single spacing wins.
Another kind of visual distortion effect that can occur among dyslexic users is the blur effect. This is when dyslexic readers see their text blurring or swirling or together. This can significantly affect a dyslexic user’s reading ability, and make reading tiring for them. 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 ( #000 ), and the background is not pure white ( #FFF ). 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.
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.
That’s why it’s better to use short paragraphs that express one idea. This is because dyslexic users need more breaks between ideas than non-dyslexic users. Breaking up your text to one idea per paragraph makes reading a lot easier for both dyslexic and non-dyslexic users.
Sometimes dyslexic users can experience the washout effect. When this happens, the text looks faint and indistinct. 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.
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. 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.
When the text size is small, italicized text is even more illegible. 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.
Peace out ✌️