Web Accessibility Drives a Better Experience for People with Dyslexia

Guest blog by Mark Miller

The Narrow Straw

I talk to a lot of people who are discovering accessibility for the first time. Usually, it’s some poor person who’s had the WCAG 2.0 guidelines dropped in their lap with cryptic instructions from their boss like, “I think we need to do this to our website.” About ten minutes later my phone rings and I hear, “I don’t know anything about these guidelines but I think I need your help.” That is usually followed by, “it’s so blind people can use our website, right?” It’s at these moments that I struggle with the “narrow straw” through which accessibility is sometimes viewed, but it is an opportunity to broaden their view.  Accessibility helps all people and most acutely those with all types of disabilities.

My experience with Ghotit Real Writer, an assistive technology for people with dyslexia and dysgraphia, has led me to think a lot about how accessible websites help people with dyslexia and other cognitive disabilities. In November the W3C WAI, who publishes the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0), announced that The Cognitive Accessibility Task Force is open to participants, reinforcing the W3C’s current focus on cognitive disabilities. I would like to widen our view of website accessibility by looking at a few ways the guidelines help individuals with dyslexia.

Challenges and Guidelines

The basic challenges of dyslexia are centered on reading but can include overall language skills and verbal comprehension. Because the specific challenges of dyslexia vary, so do the tools and methods people with dyslexia use to overcome the challenges.

One of the tools people with dyslexia will use to help them better read and comprehend writing is similar to that used by a person who is blind or has low vision. That’s right, two completely different disabilities, same technology. We’re talking about technology that will read the content aloud or manipulate it into other forms like large print. Many of the WCAG 2.0 guidelines deal directly with this.

  1. Principle 1: Perceivable – Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
  • Guideline 1.1 – This guideline requires the provision of “text alternative for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need such as large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.”

While having content read aloud may help many people with dyslexia, others may benefit from a different approach like larger text or simpler language. They may also benefit from many of the guidelines that fall under Principle 3 of WCAG 2.0.

  1. Principle 3: Understandable states, “Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.”
  • Guideline 3.1 Readable, requires making “text content readable and understandable,” an obvious benefit to someone who struggles linguistically.
  • Guideline 3.2 Predictable, requires making “Web pages appear and operate in predictable ways,” which is less direct and obvious to Dyslexia but equally important to consider as unpredictable operation is a close kin to poorly structured content and underscores a challenge presented by dyslexia that is not directly related to reading.

Moreover, the W3C has published a Summary of existing research and guidelines in their gap analysis, which outlines further guidelines that should be considered for dyslexia.

The Other Side of the Coin

While there are many more WCAG 2.0 guidelines that help people with dyslexia and other cognitive disabilities, the few we’ve looked at clearly demonstrate the benefits of an accessible website to a person with dyslexia. A product like Ghotit Real Writer provides an unprecedented advantage to a person with Dyslexia, allowing them to participate in things many of us take for granted, like simply sending an email, without fear of embarrassment or with the overhead of relying on someone else to help. But creating content is only one side of the coin. Accessibility is the other side of the coin as it allows that same person to consume the rich content on the web with equal success as someone without a disability. That is something that will not just provide a better experience but allow that individual to be more productive in all their endeavors.

Taking Action

How do you know if your website is accessible? How do you make it accessible if it’s not? Partnering with an expert accessibility consultant is essential if you need to insure you meet the guidelines and have a fully accessible site. In addition, there are some accessibility tools that can help you, although I have to warn you that tools are not a complete answer.  They are helpful, especially in the hands of someone with extensive accessibility knowledge, but they do not find the majority of accessibility issues.

The process for evaluating and fixing a site that is not accessible looks like this:

  1. Assess – You will need a good accessibility audit to show you the violations to WCAG 2.0 and other accessibility guidelines
  2. Remediate – Once you have the audit it’s time for your developers to go to work fixing the issues. Ask your accessibility consultant about services they may offer to help your developers with the remediation:
    1. Accessibility training
    2. Help desk support
    3. Interim quality assurance audits
    4. Compatibility testing to ensure the product works with assistive technology (the tools that people with disability use to interact with your website)
  3. Integrate – Now that you’ve gone through the work of creating a website that is accessible you’ll want to keep it that way and make sure future projects are accessible from the start. You will want to look at the following for your organization:
    1.  Corporate accessibility policies development
    2. Develop best practices and checklists to integrate accessibility throughout the development process
    3. Accessibility certification
    4. On-going accessibility monitoring

When you have an accessible website you can be proud knowing that your efforts don’t just help people with one kind of disability but help all people including those with any number of disabilities.

Author Profile

Mark Miller is the accounts and marketing director for Interactive Accessibility, internationally-recognized experts who provide accessibility services for WCAG 2.0 compliance. He can be reached at 603-580-9110 or [email protected].