Person typing on laptop next to cup of coffee

The Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand suggests that “… properly addressed, dyslexia can fuel highly creative thinking and can produce the kind of innovation and entrepreneurship needed in an increasingly ICT led world in challenging economic times”.

Some of New Zealand’s most inspiring individuals have been dyslexic, including Richard Taylor, founder of Weta Workshop and John Britten, the well-known motorcycle designer. 

Surely we have a responsibility to create inclusive eLearning, making it accessible for dyslexic readers. While this is easily said, it’s something that we at Like-Minded Learning can definitely improve on!

What is dyslexia?

In a nutshell, dyslexia is a learning disorder where the person finds it hard to concentrate on letters within words or words within lines of text. They sometimes fail to recognise letters when those letters are cluttered within a word.

Here is a short, simple explanation of how dyslexia can affect people.

How to write inclusively

The two key goals for inclusive writing are to check for readability and make sure it is easy for technology to turn the text to speech.

Here are 10 tips for how you can do that:

1 – Keep it short and simple
We’ve all come across sentences we need to read several times before we understand what they really mean. Dyslexic readers experience this more often than the rest of us. Writing short sentences and short paragraphs or using bullets or numbered lists can all help—in other words, write in plain English. You can also try including diagrams or pictures in place of too much text.

2 – Avoid abbreviations
You might have spelled out the abbreviation early in the learning, but dyslexic readers could find it difficult to remember them later. It’s a fine balance between using abbreviations and having to use long, complex words. Sometimes you’ll find you need to use them but, where possible, avoid abbreviations.

3 – Headings
Headings give structure and help us navigate content easily; this is the case for dyslexic readers, too. Headings should be at least 20 percent larger than the body text.

4 – Avoid all capitals
Writing words or headings in all capitals may be a designer’s dream and look good with the brand, but this format can be difficult for the dyslexic reader.

A fox jumps over a dog

5 – Use a single space after a full stop
A single space after a full stop is the current recommended style; two spaces went out years ago with the typewriter! However, a single space is also easier for those who are dyslexic to read.

6 – Use bold, but avoid italicised and underlined words
Italics and underlining can make the words look like they run together to a person with dyslexia. Bold can be used for emphasis and headings, but it’s best to leave it at that.

7 – Choose your fonts wisely
When using sans serif fonts letters generally appear less crowded. If the font is at least 12 points in size, a person with dyslexia may be able to read the word more clearly. You can even add more spacing between the letters, the words, the lines, and above and below headings.

Good fonts for dyslexic readers include Helvetica, Courier, Arial, and Verdana.

8 – Colour and contrast
Here we find another clash between design and readability. While we try to make our eLearning visually appealing with textures, patterns and images, dyslexic readers tend to prefer single colour backgrounds. Keep in mind, however, that a pure white background with black text may make it difficult for dyslexic readers to focus on the words. This style can also cause fatigue. Whatever colour is used, the content should have a suitable level of contrast between the background and the text, like this example website.

Dyslexia website example

9 – Think about screen readers
Google maps can’t always read aloud a road name correctly and assistive technology is no different. You need to think about how your words will sound when read aloud. One of the best examples is the term ‘US’—we might know that we mean the United States, but a screen reader could read it as ‘us’, with the meaning of  ‘you and me’.

10 – Get a check on your readability
It’s good practice to check your material to see how easy it is to read. You can ask a peer to cast ‘fresh eyes’ on it, or you could use a tool (such as the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease test). Another easy option for listening to what you’ve written is the ‘Read aloud’ option in Microsoft Word (or something equivalent).