Dyslexia – still a low priority in accessibility design
It is very important that employees with neurological conditions are able to work effectively in a digital workplace. Talking to application vendors and intranet managers at the IntraTeam Event in Copenhagen recently I had a habit of moving the discussions towards accessibility. Most were conversant with the Web Accessibility Initiative provisions though even then there were often indications that design had triumphed over accessibility. This is especially concerning when it comes to social media, which may well be seen as unsocial media by employees who have some form of dyslexia. I am including collaboration applications in this category.
Dyslexia is a cognitive spectrum condition that could affect more than 1 in 10 employees. It is quite common for people to conceal the extent of their dyslexia as it still has connotations of being stupid and slow to learn. It is also very difficult for people without the condition to imagine what it must be like. We can have some sense of the challenges a blind or partially sighted employee must have, or someone with poor motor control in their hands. There are some simulations of dyslexia which given at least an initial impression but cannot reproduce the frustrations that people with the condition must have to cope with.
Dyslexia Ireland has published a very good guide to ensuring that users with dyslexia have as few problems as possible when reading web pages. These include
- Do not underline text (which goes for hyperlinks as well!)
- Do not use capital letters
- Use high contrast colour palettes but not black on white
- Use a line space or 1.5 or ideally 2
- Minimize the amount of information presented on a single page
- Keep line lengths short
- Write in good ‘standard’ English
Two useful resources are a SlideShare presentation from Luz Rello, Gaurang Kanvinde and Ricardo Baeza Yates and a review paper entitled Web Service to Improve Accessibility for Dyslexics and Web Accessibility and People with Dyslexia authored by a team at the University of Campinas.
These guidelines are especially difficult to implement with search applications, especially when the result snippets are created from fragments of text interspersed with a string of dots. For most people with dyslexia this is very difficult to handle. In the UK Dr. Andrew Macfarlane at City, The University of London has taken a very active research interest in the the impact of dyslexia on information seeking . I would also add that working through a search results page with a voice-output browser can also be very challenging.
I’ll come back to the point I made at the beginning of this blog post; it could be as many as 1 in 10 of your employees has some element of dyslexia. If you have 1000 employees 100 would like you to support them.