Following on from two blog posts: Disability Services (May 10th) and Assistive Technologies (May 17th) at Queen’s University and some posts on:

We want to continue with consideration of audience members with specific needs and content design.

This week, we start off considering audience members living with dyslexia. If you are a content creator, this post will guide you towards considering different audience member needs and designing content to be inclusive.

Dyslexia

Dyslexia can include reading, writing and spelling difficulties. It is considered a common learning disorder which does not affect intelligence. Roughly 10% of the UK population have some form of dyslexia and it’s lifelong condition. Dyslexia affects areas of the brain which process language and dyslexia appears to run in families.

Dyslexia is a learning difference which primarily affects reading and writing skills. However, it does not only affect these skills. Dyslexia is actually about information processing. Dyslexic people may have difficulty processing and remembering information they see and hear, which can affect learning and the acquisition of literacy skills. Dyslexia can also impact on other areas such as organisational skills. It is important to remember that there are positives to thinking differently. Many dyslexic people show strengths in areas such as reasoning and in visual and creative fields.

British Dyslexia Association

Dyslexia signs in children can also found in teenagers and adults. Here’s some common signs and symptoms:

  • issues with spelling
  • needing more time to complete reading or writing tasks
  • reading internally or aloud is difficult
  • writing and reading can be slow and labor-some
  • avoidance of reading tasks
  • summarizing information can be difficult
  • mispronunciation of words or names and/or issues retrieving words
  • learning new languages is hard
  • memorization issues
  • completing math problems can be difficult

There can be problems indirectly connected to reading and writing. These include:

  • number difficulties (dyscalculia)
  • short-term memory issues
  • concentration and short attention span issues
  • poor time management and organisation skills
  • poor physical co-ordination

Those living with dyslexia may experience the following:

  • Social issues. If ignored, dyslexia can lead to anxiety, aggression, lower self-esteem, behavioural problems and withdrawal from friends and family.
  • Trouble learning. As reading is a basic skill for all other subjects taught at school, children with dyslexia can be disadvantaged and may falter when compared to their peers.
  • Adult challenges. Having an inability to read, write, spell and understand subject matter can limit a child reaching their potential when growing up. This affects long-term educational, social and economic consequences.
Accessible design for dyslexia

Accessibility is an important topic to ensure the digital content we create is accessible for all users. This will require adapting materials and this should be embedded in to our practices.

Let us ask, if you were living with dyslexia, what teaching materials might you not want to use? Anything text based is problematic to varying degrees and what works for one person living with dyslexia may not work for another.

Taking this into consideration, let’s look at practices to avoid and include as content creators.

Practices to avoid

Please avoid the following practices when designing content for audience members with dylexia:

  • Text heavy content
  • Poor use of text formatting
    • Avoid italics / underline text
    • Lack of text structure
  • Backgrounds
    • Multi-coloured
    • White
Text heavy content

Text is a challenge for those living with dyslexia. It doesn’t matter if the text is being read or written by the student with dyslexia. If there is a lot of text, this can be a challenge for those living with dyslexia.

Poor use of text formatting

When creating content, break text up into titles, subtitles and paragraphs. This helps structure text and reading. Also, avoid the use of italics and underlined text as this can look like the letters are running into each other. It’s particularly hard to read.

Blocks of text with justified alignment is also hard to follow. Text in CAPS is more unfamiliar and harder to read.

Backgrounds

Single colour backgrounds help. Definitely avoid patterned backgrounds as these are distracting. Ensure sufficient contrast between background and text colour. Darker text on a pale but not white background is helpful.

White background paper and digital displays can be dazzling. It might be some people living with dyslexia have a background colour preference. Some people living with dyslexia may also experience colour blindness.

If you print handouts, use matt rather than gloss paper and the paper should be thicker than normal to prevent text from the other side showing through.

Now let’s have a look at practices to include when creating content.

Practices to include

The following practices should be incorporated into your workflow when designing content for audience members with dyslexia:

  • Good writing style
  • Well formatted text
  • Highlighting key concepts using alternatives to colour
  • Provide speaker notes (MS PowerPoint)
  • Audio
Good writing style

When creating text, use active voice rather than passive. Be concise in your sentence and paragraph construction. Avoid the use of overly long sentences as these are hard to follow. Break the text up with use of titles / subtitles.

Short and simple sentences are better and images can be used to support the text content. When it comes to procedural explanations, flow charts work well.

It is best practice to avoid blocks of text. Bullet point your content and make instructions clear with the use of numbered lists. Abbreviations should be avoided but a glossary of terms for jargon is helpful as a pre-training aid. This allows the student to refer to shorter bite-sized chunks of learning.

Well formatted text

We’ve covered why text accessibility is important in previous posts and include a link here to Hacking Accessibility: Text for you to refer to.

However, to consolidate text accessibility, text size should be minimum size 12 (MS Word) and 24 (MS PowerPoint body content). Text should have good contrast of text colour versus background (non-white). Line spacing should be set to 1.5 and left aligned. However, do read the previous post for more in-depth information.

Highlighting key concepts using alternatives to colour

Avoid using colour alone to highlight important messages within text and think about how you format text to draw attention to its importance.

Content designers may frequently use bold, italic and underline on text to highlight and make key information stand out. Some users overuse this formatting and it loses the intended impact.

If everything is highlighted, what is the key information?

As noted above, avoid italic and underline formatting as this doesn’t help those living with dyslexia.

Provide speaker notes (MS PowerPoint)

In MS PowerPoint, if speaker notes are used and PowerPoints are shared with students, speaker notes are available to students. This adds to the richness of content available and it is an advantage for all audience members.

MS PowerPoint - speaker notes
MS PowerPoint – speaker notes
Audio

Podcasts are very good as teaching and learning materials for those living with dyslexia. Audio books can be listened to instead of the need to read.

Following on from this, let’s have a look at Assistive Technologies (ATs) to help audience members with hearing impairment.

Assistive technologies available

What are Assistive Technologies (AT)? These are technologies specifically designed to assist people living with disability. AT covers a vast number of technologies for all sorts of assistance, we will list a few we have available at Queen’s specifically for audience members with dyslexia. These include:

  • Speech to Text (TextHelp)
  • Voice recognition software
  • Scanning and reading software
  • Mindview 4.0 (mind mapping software)

Whilst most computing devices currently have screen readers, magnifiers, colour/contrast controls and other useful accessibility aids built in, we’ve provided a few from both Microsoft & Apple which can be used for audience members with dyslexia.

Microsoft

The Microsoft corporation has added many accessibility features to their software applications. These include:

Apple

Apple has a number of accessibility features built in:

Apps / plugins

Before we finish off, we’d like to look at some practical scenarios and uses of technology for those living with dyslexia.

Technology for students

Many older students living with dyslexia may prefer working with computers than physical books. Computers use visual environments which may suit their way of working and learning.

MS Word can be useful with a built in spellchecker which auto corrects and highlights errors in written work. Most browsers and word processors have text-to-speech features. This allows devices to read the text it sees.

Those living with dyslexia can use speech recognition software to translate their verbal words into written text. This is very useful for younger children with dyslexia as their verbal skills can often be better than their written skills.

Adults in work / study

Technology can help with writing and organising daily activities. A multi-sensory approach to work and learning is helpful. One can use digital recorders to record meetings / lectures and then listen them as they read their notes.

It is helpful to break large activities into smaller steps. Mind maps can be used to create plans or capture notes around a topic. These are visuals which use keywords and images to make a visual representation of a plan or subject.

Adjustments at work

Firstly, inform your employer that you have dyslexia. Your employer is required (by law) to make reasonable workplace adjustments to assist you.

For example, adjustments may include:

  • provision of assistive technology, i.e., digital recorders or speech-to-text software
  • giving verbal instructions instead of written
  • allocation of extra time for tasks you find difficult
  • giving you information in accessible formats 
Resources

Just to give some assistance regards improving digital accessibility when designing content, we’d like to re-share some blog posts to improve accessibility:

Summary

Whilst there are many services, assistive technologies and Apps available to assist people living with dyslexia, we cannot list everything here. There are some great resources which you can access at AT Hive which are broken down into specific categories.

We hope you have enjoyed this blog post and it helps you become more aware of the needs of audience members when creating content and other technologies available as well.

Next week

In our next blog post, we will be looking at audience members living with sensory issues.

Remember, the DigiKnow blog posts are released at noon on a Monday.

Please do join us then to learn more and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @MDBSelearn.


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