Take account of dyslexia in search result page design

by | Oct 1, 2014 | Digital workplace, Intranets, Search

Taking account of accessibility issues in the design of search results pages is a significant challenge. Google notes that it has “taken some deliberate steps to further improve the accessibility and tools that are commonly used by people with disabilities such as blindness, visual impairment, color deficiency, deafness, hearing loss, and limited dexterity.”  The missing disability is dyslexia, which is a condition in which there is a wide spectrum of challenges to the user.  Search results displays often make life very difficult for people with dyslexia, a point well made to me last year when I was working on a search strategy for a UK university. Many famous people have achieved a great deal despite having the condition. In most cases they make no mention of their condition because they have been taught, or have discovered, ways of coping with understanding text. Many of those with the condition are able to recognise words by their shape. The indications are that 10% of the UK population and perhaps 15% of the US population have some degree of dyslexia. That means in an organisation with 1000 employees 100 will need support.

Some of the design considerations should be taken into account are

  • Do not underline text
  • 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

A quick look at some websites indicates that little thought seems to have been given to dyslexic users. Warwick University underlines the titles of search results, as does Southampton University. Moreover the summarisation application on the Southampton website does not result in well-structured English sentences. The Office of Communications has pink titles on a greyish background and there are instances of all capital letter summaries and the URLs are dark grey on a light grey background. The Financial Times squeezes a dense array of filters and facets and picture thumbnails onto the search page. That’s a very small selection of sites which seem not to have taken dyslexia into account.

The challenge is this. In your organisation the chances are that 1 in 10 of the workforce have some degree of dyslexia, a much greater percentage than any other accessibility challenge with the possible exception of red-green colour blindness. The condition is invisible to anyone other than people who are having to cope with it, and they are probably the last to raise it as an issue. Although your intranet pages may not present too many challenges, based on a limited sample of websites and thinking about my clients over the last few years I suspect that most search results pages make life and work rather difficult for 10% of your workforce, and the same percentage of visitors to your corporate website.

Martin White