Dyslexia: a common reading disability
Dyslexia is a neurological reading disability, which impairs a person’s ability to read and write. In the media, we often hear about dyslexia as a gift in the context of famous people, such as Steve Jobs. However, in reality, depending on the language, a significant chunk of the people suffer from dyslexia, e.g. 10 to 17.5% in the US. For most of these, dyslexia is not a gift: the most common way of identifying dyslexia in children is bad performance in our reading-centric education system.
Can the right presentation parameters improve reading?
The good news is that reading increasingly takes place via electronic displays, where we can adapt the presentation of text to make it easier to read for people with dyslexia. Therefore, led by Luz, we (Luz Rello, Martin Pielot, Mari-Carmen Marcos, and Roberto Carlini) set out to find optimal values for the most simple parameters of presentation: font size and line spacing.
Eye-tracking study exploring font size and line spacing
The study was conducted by Luz Rello in the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF) in Barcelona, Spain. 28 people (15f, 13m), aged 14-38, with a confirmed diagnosis of dyslexia took part in the study. They were asked to read Wikipedia articles that were presented with different font sizes and line spacings. The study used eye tracking and questionnaires to measure readability and comprehension.
The experiment compared:
- Font sizes: 10, 12, 14, 18, 22, and 26 pt.
- Line spacings: 0.8, 1.0, 1.4, and 1.8.
To make a long story short, line spacing did not have much of an impact. Only 1.8 line spacing lead to worse comprehension compared to 0.8 line spacing.
Regarding font size, however, the results were surprising. When we look for optimal font size in the web, we either find soft recommendations, such as “allow to adjust”
or values around 12pt / 14pt.
However, our results provide strong evidence that for people with dyslexia, readability and comprehensibility of a text increases with font size, which an optimum around 18pt.
In particular, we found that:
- The objective readability, which is indicated by the fixation duration recorded with the eye-tracker, steadily increased until 18pt.
- The subjective readability was highest for 18pt and 22pt.
- The subjective comprehensibility was highest for the three largest fonts: 18pt, 22pt, 26pt.
Conclusions: use 18pt font size for your website
Hence, when designing a website that shall be friendly to readers with dyslexia (remember, 10-17.5% of the population!), use large fonts. Since there was no improvement at larger font sizes, 18 pt font size hits the sweet spot.
The complete scientific report can be found below.
Luz Rello, Martin Pielot, Mari-Carmen Marcos and Roberto Carlini.
Size Matters (Spacing not): 18 Points for a Dyslexic-friendly Wikipedia.
W4A ’13: 10th International Cross-Disciplinary Conference on Web Accessibility, 2013.
This work was published at the 10th International Cross-Disciplinary Conference on Web Accessibility, held 13-15th May 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.