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How much do you know about dyslexia?

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Written by: Oliver Tappin
How much do you know about dyslexia? An inability to read easily? Mixing letters and numbers? Well, yes. But so much more than that. And what does it have to do with web development?

Dyslexia is not a dysfunction of reading. It is a lifestyle: as much part of a person as the ‘Brighton’ imprinted through a stick of rock. It defines someone and it can help them fly as much as it might limit them. Many people ‘with dyslexia’ will refer to themselves as ‘dyslexic’ because they don’t regard it as a negative label, but a positive explanation of why they think the way they do. And many dyslexics make brilliant web designers because they are visual learners, understand the power of the image and enjoy the hands-on creativity of web design.

But we, as developers, (and designers) have to take account of the dyslexics ‘out there’ reading our sites as either a user or a client. The way they see the world is very different. They want clean lines, no distracting animations that flash away in the background dividing their attention and distracting their already stretched concentration span. They need clear fonts with no ambiguity as the words may be difficult enough to read without having to decipher the individual letters. A classic example is the unfortunate ‘Happy Birthday to a Special Aunt’ greetings card circulated on social media where the word ‘aunt’ seems to begin with the letter ‘c’ … You might not think that letters are that important – surely the brain will work out the meaning if not all the letters are clear? Not for a firefighter – the difference of one letter on a fire extinguisher can mean the difference between putting a fire out and fanning the flames if they pick the wrong canister. Dyslexics also need the right background colour against text colour to be able to read without headaches, eye strain or ‘rivers’ running through their vision. This means a simple dark background with a white font is the easiest to read, and in fact was the rationale behind the black Apple keyboards with white keys. Accessibility is the key word and to be at the forefront of technological advances, we should really be providing text-to-speech as part of our websites, but this will all take time and time is money.

My brother is dyslexic and I still find it hard as a logical and left-brained web developer to communicate in writing with a right-brained creative creature who may not use even the correct word for the situation. I am left guessing (and often frustrated) in my communications but strive to overcome this as at least I am aware. Are you?