dyslexia and digital accessibility

A topic that has been very neglected in digital accessibility so far are the classic learning disorders such as dyslexia and dyscalculia. Let me say at the outset that I am not an expert on this and am only sharing my general assessment here.

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What is Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that manifests itself in difficulties with reading and writing. Persons with dyslexia often have problems recognising letters and words, reading them correctly and understanding them. These difficulties can also affect writing and spelling. Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence or lack of motivation. It is a neurological disorder in which the brain has difficulty processing letters and words correctly.

Dyscalculia is a specific learning disorder that affects mathematical skills and understanding of numbers. Persons with dyscalculia have difficulty understanding and applying mathematical concepts, counting, calculating and solving mathematical problems.

Digital accessibility for dyslexia

An important aspect of digital accessibility for persons with dyslexia is the use of special fonts and formatting to make reading easier. Certain fonts, such as OpenDyslexic, are specifically designed to improve letter discrimination and make reading more comfortable for persons with dyslexia. In addition, proper formatting of text, such as wider line spacing, can improve readability. There are corresponding guidelines in the WCAG. Corresponding setting options are available in browsers and other reading applications, with the exception of PDF format. So-called accessibility overlays or toolbars - i.e. website-specific functions - are completely superfluous for this purpose. The requirements are so individual that they can only be met with personal settings on the user's own device. Even fonts developed especially for this group, such as Open Dyslectic, have not yet been empirically proven to be useful. The rather anecdotal evidence that Comic Sans is particularly legible for this group is now considered refuted. There may be individuals who are particularly comfortable with these fonts, but that is certainly no reason to provide offers in one of these fonts. As said above, it is more important that websites work with adaptations such as higher line spacing or custom fonts. It is also good if browser reading modes are supported by websites because they make it easier for software to read aloud.

Another way to improve accessibility for persons with dyslexia is to use text-to-speech technology. By converting text into spoken words, these technologies enable persons with dyslexia to take in information auditorily, making it easier to understand and access content. Reading and listening to words in parallel is said to increase receptivity. Text-to-speech features are now widely available through devices and browsers and do not need to be offered by the website provider.

Digitisation can improve accessibility for persons with dyslexia. By providing digital content, adaptations can be made more easily to meet the needs of persons with dyslexia.

Differentiation from other challenges

It is interesting to note that visually impaired persons may also have similar challenges for other reasons. In the case of visual impairment, it is crucial that signs cannot be recognised or distinguished for visual reasons.

Another area where similar challenges can exist is attention disorders such as ADHD: again, the symptoms may look similar to the observer, but the causes and strategies for dealing with them are completely different.

therefore, an appropriate diagnosis is very important in order to be able to help those affected. An unrecognised problem is difficult. But an incorrect diagnosis also leads to non-meaningful measures being taken that do not help those affected. It is unlikely to help a dyslexic person to get larger letters if the spacing of the characters is the problem. Changing the font will not help a visually impaired person if the characters are not of adequate size.

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