Last week, we had a look at the top 2 formatting changes you can make to create better accessible texts: larger font and highlighted key words.

In this post, we will look at the basic principles and the key dos and don’ts based on key principles.

More space

One of the difficulties dyslexic readers face is lower speed of processing. Reading is similar to driving fast on a narrow road. The faster you drive, the narrower the road seems. And if you have slower reflexes, the road seems narrower still. It seems, the same applies with reading. If your speed of decoding is low, it will be even harder when you have tightly squeezed text.

So if you give somebody with dyslexia more space around letters and words, they will be able to read a little faster. This could make a lot of difference to someone whose reading is already slow.

Line spacing

Increasing the line spacing to at least 1.2 lines is a good idea for texts for most people. It will make reading much more comfortable for most students.

It is easy to do in Microsoft Word in one of two ways:

Character spacing

Another way to provide more space, is to slightly increase the character spacing. As you can see, the text with slightly increased character spacing is easier on the eyes.

It is very easy to do in Microsoft Word using the Font advanced dialogue box.

Another way to give more space between letters is to use a monospace font such as Courier New or Consolas which are also preferred by some people with dyslexia. However, they often look more like text produced by a type writer.

Avoid text distortions

A lot of typical formatting used for emphasis can distort the shapes of the letters. This slows down processing for everyone but can be even more damaging for someone with dyslexia. These include italics, underlining and ALL CAPS.

Luckily, there are alternatives available such as bold or colours.

Another way, text can be distorted is the alignment of paragraphs and spaces between words.

Text formatting
FormattingProblems causedAlternative
Underlined textCan interact with the shapes of the letters like p or q but it also adds more things in the visual field for the reader to deal withUse Larger Font Size and/or bold for things you want to emphasize. Or make sure that the line under the text does not touch any of the letters.
ItalicsDistorts the shapes of the letters and makes them blend into one another.Use bold for emphasis. You can also increase the spacing of the letters to emphasize words.
ALL CAPSWriting in ALL CAPS creates an undifferentiated block that is much harder to navigate and slows down reading.

Large font and bold are the best alternatives.

You can also use different colours, if possible.
Paragraph alignment

Always, keep your paragraphs left aligned.

FormattingProblems causedAlternative
Justified text

Causes variable spacing between words.

Makes paragraphs look more uniform and easier to loose place.
Left-align when possible – avoid using hyphenation.
Centred text

Makes it more difficult to navigate the paragraphs because their beginnings are irregular.

This is a problem every time the centred text is more than a single line.

Left aligned titles look much better than you think.

You can put more space before and after the title and increase font size for emphasis.
Reduce visual stress and distractions

A minority of people with dyslexia suffer from different forms of visual stress. They may report increased tiredness or complain that the letters on the page ‘swim’ before their eyes. There are several ways in which these issues can be minimised.

You can use different colours, special fonts or avoid putting texts on distracting background.

Colour contrast

In many schools, children with dyslexia are given colour overlays as a ‘solution’ to their problem. This is not fully supported by evidence but never the less, it can be helpful to use colours that reduce the visual glare. This is much easier with e-books than with print but even in print, you can do some things. Some options are:

  • Use a slightly lower intensity of black
  • Set cream background
  • Reduce the intensity of screen brightness

Much is made in the press about the selection of fonts. But the research indicates that fonts have only limited impact on reading.

However, most people with dyslexia seem to prefer Sans Serif fonts such as Arial or Cursive fonts such as Comic Sans.

Some people also prefer mono spaced fonts such as Courier New or Consolas. These fonts are often used to represent computer code because there is less potential for confusion between letters.

Dyslexic readers who report text swimming on the page also often report benefits from fonts designed to be dyslexia-friendly such as Open Dyslexic. Another font often reported to have these benefits is Century Gothic which is already installed on all Windows Machines.

Another reason why some fonts may be more dyslexia friendly than others is the shapes of the letters to minimise confusion. You can read more about different fonts on the BDA Tech blog.

You can also see that different type faces are bigger or smaller when set to the same point size. This may also have an impact on readability preference as we saw last time.

Research on fonts and readability has produced contradictory results. Sans Serif fonts are consistently preferred and produce better results but the differences are slight and not consistent across different type faces. 

Non-distracting backgrounds

Another way, in which text can be made more difficult to read, if it is on an image background or on a gradient background.

Many modern textbooks are guilty of this as are magazines and some websites. It is important to keep background colours as uniform as possible although some slight texturing may be acceptable.

Putting some solid background behind the text over the image is one solution. But even that may be distracting. It may be far better to simply put the text below the image.

Next time

Next time we will start a series of posts on creating outlines and structured documents to make texts more easily accessible and navigable for people with dyslexia.

Image Credits

Photos of fonts and stress from Pixabay licensed under CC0. Others are by Dominik Lukeš licensed under CC BY.