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Blogging for Dyslexic Readers

This guest post is by Varda Epstein of CogniBeat.

Worldwide, about one in every ten people has dyslexia. In the U.S., Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a leading expert in the field, says that up to 20% of the U.S. population suffers from dyslexia. And yet, dyslexia is just one of any number of possible reading difficulties.

Any blogger who wants to reach the widest possible audience will want to be sensitive to the fact that some readers have reading issues. If you make your blog user-friendly for people with dyslexia and reading problems, it will stand out in the crowd. Those who enjoy blogs but find it difficult to read will reward your efforts by following your blog and recommending it to others who have reading difficulties.

Attracting and keeping readers with reading difficulties is not as daunting as it sounds. Most of what you need to know is stuff you’re already doing. Good design and good writing solve most of the issues that make blogs illegible to the person with a reading problem.

On writing

Start by keeping paragraphs short and to the point. Those with reading issues find it hard to keep the place in a long paragraph. Shorter blocks of text are the ticket to readability.

In any event, good writing entails using just one idea per paragraph. That should be your rule of thumb. Keep paragraphs short and sweet to keep your dyslexic and other readers reading.

Layout, Fonts, and More

Don’t double-space after periods, no matter what your teacher taught you in school. Once upon a time, manual typewriters necessitated using mono-spaced fonts. It was thought that double-spacing after periods would help make the ends of sentences more distinct.

Today, the fonts we use on the web have better proportions. As a result, double-spacing after periods has the effect of creating vertical rivers of white space within the text. This so-called “river effect” makes it hard for a dyslexic reader to find where sentences start and end. Single-spacing after periods, on the other hand, offers just the right amount of space between sentences.

Avoid high contrast between text and background colors. Too great a contrast may result in the blur effect for readers with dyslexia. In the blur effect, letters seem to swirl together. Don’t use pure white for background or pure black for text. Instead, add a touch of gray to each to cut the glare and reduce the blur effect.

Use sans serif fonts. Sans serif means “without serif.” Serif fonts have little hooks on the ends of the letter strokes. These hooks make letters less distinct to dyslexic readers and may cause a washout effect in which the text appears faint and becomes hard to see. Fonts that are sans serif come without those troublesome hooks. The most readable of the Windows fonts is Trebuchet MS.

Use bolding to make text stand out instead of italics. Italicized letters have jagged edges and lean to one side. These characteristics make the text indistinct and just about illegible to those with reading difficulties.

Bloggers often get just one chance to attract new readers. If the dyslexic reader has to struggle to read the text, that person will bypass your blog, no matter how great the content. By avoiding these simple design flaws however, you’ll widen your potential readership and make your blog a pleasure to read.

Is your blog guilty of any of these no-nos?

Varda Epsteinis a content writer and editor for CogniBeat, a company that aims to help people with learning disabilities by offering AgileEye technology.

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Comments

  1. Aurore says:

    I am glad I came across this article which comforted me a bit!

    When I found a cyan WP theme with a light grey text, I wondered if the pale font colour could bother some.

    From now on when non dyslexic readers will criticize all the light shades of my blog, I will redirect them to this interesting article.

    Thanks a lot!

  2. Kirk Taylor says:

    Thank you for doing this post! I think that this is some of the most useful information on writing great blog posts I have read so far. Simple, too the point and you support your claims.

    My writing just got better because of you!

    Thank You
    Kirk

    • I agree with Kirk. I have recently read about not double spacing after periods in another place, but now have an even better reason not to do it, thanks. It’s hard to break the habit since I was so used to typing the way my middle school teacher taught me on a Smith Corona typewriter. Fortunately, HTML helps you a bit here since extraneous double spaces are generally removed before display in most browsers.

  3. mario monk says:

    I was not aware that black text on white is not good. I always thought it’s easier to read.

    By the way, if the numbers are correct, 20% is extremely large number and website readability should not be left withou attention.

    • Lots of great advice here but remember each reader is different. Some people with dyslexia, learning disabilities and other vision issues prefer black on white. Plus, readers can change their personal readers/computers to alternate colors so check with your blog readership before you change.

  4. Sam Beamond says:

    Yes, I applied a lot of similar principles to this post, http://www.beamondcreative.com/2009/11/blogging-for-seo/ which has become my most popular post on my blog. Written in small chunks/paragraphs makes the content easier to read whether you have reading difficulties or not.

  5. Greg Pincus says:

    Those are great tips that, in general, make a blog post better reading for all. A few other ideas to toss out:

    Lots of folks (dyslexics and otherwise) use read-aloud technology – so try to include key information in the text not just in images which can’t be read-aloud by reading software. Obviously, video posts are a whole different ball of wax.

    Anything flashing or moving – icons or text – in a post makes a site tougher for a dyslexic (and one could argue it makes it harder for everyone!).

    If you want to go the extra mile, giving users a way to customize how they view the site (let them pick the font and background color) is a great thing.

    Thanks for a post on accessibility, a topic that’s easy to lose sight of….

  6. norma j hill says:

    Wow, thank you for this article. It is something I have never seriously considered – which is pretty sad considering how many people I know (including many students I have taught) who have dyslexia. I tried to apply these principles when I was teaching school – but somehow forgot about them when blogging :-( Thank you for waking me up!

  7. papa echa says:

    Thanks for the giving post, there are several points that i never think it before. Make nice content layout and easy to read and understand can boost people interesting beside nice topic we have

  8. Olaf says:

    I am afraid dislexia is not that common as you say. Most of that 20% are people who would not read any text longer than 3 short paragraphs no matter what you do to make them read it. They are either too lazy or not interested. Nowadays people have problems with reading more than 3 pages of text. Just out of lazyiness. The whole dislexia problem is just a piece of crap.

    • Lea Sadler says:

      Some people DO have dyslexia. It’s not all crap. But you do make a point when you say that many people today prefer shorter paragraphs. It’s just plain easier to read!

  9. Thank you very much for writing/posting such a vitally important blog. The challenges of the dyslexic reader are hard to fathom for so many of us. I hope that all bloggers will take note and produce a blog that everyone can easily read. Thank you again for this wonderful article. I’m re-posting and tweeting it.

  10. Kyle Logue says:

    I’d have to say that you’re right on the money. My blog did have several of these errors, but they’re all fixed now :)

  11. I always wondered why I was supposed to double space after each sentence. It never made sense, and I suppose it makes my posts look dated too.

  12. Lea Sadler says:

    It’s interesting to note that many of the recommendations you make to be more reader-friendly for dyslexic readers makes it easier for all readers–short paragraphs, using slightly off-white backgrounds to cut visual glare, keeping paragraphs on topic … it’s all just good writing a web design.

    • I agree with Lea. Good writing is good writing and Oalf–whoa, don’t know where your anger is coming from but even if you don’t think there is such a thing as dyslexia–there is. The research is clear.

      The other suggestion I would make is to avoid anything flashing on your site.

      • Olaf says:

        There’s no anger. I just don’t believe that kind of “research”. 20% of population suffer from dislexia? I wonder what kind of research was that. Ask doctors – 5% is the maimum number, the rest are just cheating.

  13. You just pointed out the most common mistakes a blogger may commit, including me lol. I have no idea about that 20% rate, it’s a little unbelievable, but i did fix some issues. Thx

  14. Varda, just checked out your site (link above) and was impressed with the options to change the color and fonts. So simple, and yet so useful. How did you do that? Is it a software program?

    I hope everyone will check this out. Thanks for sharing this important information.

  15. Great topic!

    One of my family members is dyslexic and she’s stayed away from the computer because she cannot read or type correctly!

    Krizia

  16. Hi Varda,

    Interesting synchronicity I’m a dyslexic blogger (writer) and just wrote a post last night for dyslexic writers and now I’m here reading about dyslexic readers.
    :)

    I visited your site – it’s brilliant! In my experience, I’ve found it hard to find helpful resources for dyslexics. It’s seems to still be something that many teachers, schools, children & adults don’t really know how to work with it.

    I’m happy you wrote this post & happy you have such a great website!

  17. Wow, interesting post. Fortunately, by chance rather than design I do a lot of the things mentioned but could still improve my own site based on this article. Thanks for the insight and information.

    Alan

  18. Doc Sheldon says:

    Great stuff, Varda. I’d like to contribute another item, as well. I used to always justify my text, because I thought it gave a nice tidy appearance. Then I found out that many dyslexics have increased reading problems when the text is fully justified, so I stopped doing it. I can’t point to the original source for that information, but it makes sense, and it came to me via a usability and accessibility expert, so I believe it to be true.

  19. Being new to the blogging world, I’m still working on content and look and feel. I hadn’t really thought about how some readers might struggle with simply reading the posts. Needless to say, I intend to incorporate your insights into my posts.

  20. A simple thanks for an important and helpful post!

  21. Varda says:

    Thanks for all your comments. As for the 20% figure, this is attributed to Dr. Sally Shaywitz, one of the leading experts on dyslexia. The way she puts it is that she believes that the figure is probably 20%. The NIH puts the figure at 2%-15%, and the global figure most popularly cited is 1 in ten people. Everyone seems to have his or her own favorite numbers.

    I went with Shaywitz’ figure, because she’s IT when it comes to dyslexia research and because like Shaywitz, I believe that many people are going undiagnosed and untreated.

    The number of people with dyslexia is growing every year because people are becoming more aware of the problem and seeking out evaluations. In the past, many people went diagnosed, and it is believed that this is still a major problem. Dyslexia is a neurological deficit, an actual physiological difference in the brain. Anyone who says it doesn’t exist is living under a rock. The proof is all there. Today neuroscientists can map this stuff with scans.

    But that’s only dyslexia. There are other reading problems that make it hard for people to read, write, and spell.

    Yesterday I wrote about health literacy and saw that 90 million Americans can’t read the instructions on their medication.

    As for changing background color and text, it’s easy to change the text color. That option is available in most of the common blogging programs, such as Blogspot and Word Press.

    Background color is a little more difficult. If you’re building your own site and have a graphic designer however, the sky’s the limit.

    Doc, you’re absolutely right about justifying text! It does cause problems for dyslexics and I’ve written about this elsewhere. Thanks for adding this point.

  22. Thank you for the blogging tips in this post,it helps us write better.

  23. Michael says:

    Readers Dyslexic For Blogging. I think it should read

  24. Iza says:

    This is a very interesting post, thanks for sharing those tips and suggestions. I suppose most of people who do not have a dyslexic person around them would never thought about making the blog ready for them nor would know how to that. I never realized any of those. Great idea!