How can our writing accommodate folks with dyslexia?

~3 min read

…We as a culture are going to take on the need to meet every student’s needs right where he/she is and in that culture we’re going to see disability is simply an inability to access the curriculum and we’re going to work together….”

Bob Broudo at IDA conference 2018

With this goal and a deck in hand, I sat down with Bob Broudo, Headmaster and President of Landmark School in Beverly, MA, with Rob Kahn (Head of Elementary•Middle School), Bill Barrett (Head of High School), and Dan Ahearn (Assistant Head of School and Director of Outreach) on May 6, 2019.

What Help elements require reconsideration?

Do fonts and their styling make a difference?

The so-called “Dyslexic fonts” haven’t worked well at Landmark. Instead, it’s best to help people recognize letters by using fonts that maximize the difference between letter shapes.

Use bold text to call attention to important info and operative words. Avoid using italics and serif fonts, particularly typewriter fonts like Courier.

Does line and paragraph spacing affect reading?

Absolutely! Eye tracking is an issue for folks with dyslexia and it’s much easier to skip a line when text is dense. While our line spacing worked well, they recommended an increase in paragraph spacing (but suggested no exact numbers):

What’s the effect of lists, images, and color?

In general, bulleted and numbered lists break up walls of text. Indenting beyond the first or second level might challenge students struggling to keep their focus on the main idea. One reviewer noted that students aren’t used to reading lots of bulleted text.

Button and UI images are helpful; unrelated/decorative images might be distracting and add a layer of unwarranted concerns for students.

It’d be helpful to add a visited color to our drop-down links so that students know what they’ve already read. In general, color should be saved for focus elements and it’s wise to limit the number of colors. For example, using color as a background in warning text is helpful. Interestingly, they suggested we not call out Tips: Tips and notes are better inserted into paragraphs where they’re less likely to be skipped as “extras.”

How well do our drop-downs work to break up walls of text?

These reviewers liked the text rolled up into drop-down links where all/selected text could be expanded. They didn’t express a preference for either rolling everything up or leaving the About and See also sections unrolled. But they raised the question “What am I required to do here?”

How about motion graphics?

Our animated gifs, supplemented with written steps, were a hit! Although one reviewer noted that the students might not read the steps, they liked the fact that the gifs are embedded inside the related Help topic.

Our video did not fare as well. It ran for approximately 2 minutes, which the reviewers felt was too long. They suggested: 1:10 for time and slowing down the presentation. They also requested less complexity and that we cover a single topic per video. While we typically present videos in a separate page, they prefer embedded videos unless they’re high level. They’re not sure that students would seek out a page of videos because they’d see them as “extra.”

We demo’d a slideshow with animated gifs inside a carousel, which is a new feature for the XL summer release. They liked this as an overview of the required step sequence (reflects their teaching methods). What they didn’t want was any auto-advance feature. They also liked the link to the related topic at the bottom of each slide.

Overall, they suggested a mix of motion graphics.

Moving Forward

Benefits accrue to all when we consider the needs of those with language-based learning challenges.

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