Reading disabilities are more pervasive than ever within the general student population. That’s the reason teachers are discovering a need to be conversant with accommodations for imparting class material to dyslexic students. eLearning tips and tricks for teaching the dyslexic student are mostly about adaptive user-control and intelligent design. Use these top ten tips when designing your eLearning materials to make them more inclusive for the student with dyslexia.
The use of electronic materials within the education sector has risen to the point where even study materials and lecture notes are posted online to allow a student to access these materials in his own sweet time and pace. These Virtual Learning Environments (VLE’s) along with Intranets are increasing in popularity as vehicles for delivering and storing learning materials.
At the same time, the number of dyslexic students in higher education is burgeoning. This is due in part to inclusive programs such as the UK’s Widening Participation Initiative (WPI) but on a more basic level, greater awareness of reading difficulties has led more people to seek diagnoses for reading disabilities, increasing the likelihood that more individuals with reading difficulties will be identified.
Because dyslexic students have difficulties with visual processing, it takes them longer to identify objects, it’s harder for them to focus on what they see, and they are often hypersensitive to light. The esthetics of a graphical user interface (GUI), the architecture of webpages, and readability of webpage content in large measure determine the academic success or failure of the dyslexic elearner. The teacher designing eLearning material therefore has a responsibility to make this material inclusive of the reading-disabled student.
- User-Control: The dyslexic elearner should be able to interact with and change webpages to suit his needs. The pages should be constructed with this type of adaptability in mind. One example of built-in user-control would include an option to change the color of text and background color. Some dyslexics cannot read black text on a white background. Color-blind students may not be able to see red/pink and green combinations or red/black combinations of text and background.
- Color and Contrast: If the website is to be accessible by the reading-disabled, the user must be provided a choice of color for background, text, and images. The use of color in combination with simple, economical headings applied to various sections (pages, paragraphs, and categories) offer logical guidance to the text for a person with a reading difficulty.
Web Safe Colors
Contrast is also important and should be used with wisdom to separate the elements of a page. The background should be one solid color. Avoid busy, bright patterns, images, and textures. Keep in mind that not all browsers will display the chosen background color, so you may not want to rely on background for your only means of contrast. Dark text on a pale background is best. Choose from the 256 “web safe” colors to ensure visibility on most browsers.
- Speed: PowerPoint presentations or other presentations given according to a sequence must allow enough time for the slow reader to keep up. The slow reader needs more time to decode each word that appears within the visual display and the presentation should not continue until the user signals his readiness. The user should have control over the speed at which the presentation is screened. He should also be able to go back and review the information in earlier sequences.
- Graphics: Pictures and images should be used with some discretion. Graphics are a nice way to break up the text into more manageable blocks, but must be relevant to the content and not so eye-catching they distract from the material. It’s also important to remember that loading a page heavy in graphics takes a long time and the user may find the wait difficult.
- Printability: The webpages should be printable so that a student can print out a page and read it offline at a convenient time and pace. Printability also offers the user more control. He can choose a font and font size, for instance, that makes the material easier to read. The flatter image projected by paper may be easier to view than a luminous screen for some students with scotopic sensitivity. In other cases, a student prefers the kinesthetic experience of holding pages in his hands.
- Adjustable Column Widths: For some readers, the width of the line of text makes a huge difference in readability. A well-designed webpage should allow the user to resize column widths by adjusting the size of his browser window. A reader should never have to scroll sideways (horizontal scrolling) to finish reading lines of text.
- Readable Fonts and Font Size: Use fonts that are “sans serif” for instance Arial (Helvetica) or Comic Sans. While Comic Sans doesn’t give a very professional look to the text, it’s known to be especially readable. Other good font choices include Georgia, Tahoma, Trebuchet MS, and Verdana. Font size should not dip below 12pt or 14pt.
- Avoid Underlined, Moving, or Blinking Text: Except for clickable hyperlinks, avoid underlining text since this will confuse the user who may think there should be a link where none exists. Blinking text tags and scrolling (marquee) text are very difficult for the dyslexic reader to parse. These tools are meant to emphasize the importance of the text and may instead distract the reader from the actual content. Text that moves may also conflict with read aloud text options.
- Avoid All Caps: Using all capital letters may seem a brilliant solution to readability issues for the dyslexic reader but end up being not only rude—it’s likened to shouting—but harder to read than using proper upper and lower case letters.
- Try New Ideas: A good eLearning teacher keeps her finger on the pulse of the information highway for new ideas and techniques to help her dyslexic students make academic progress. One such example is a new software application called AgileEye™ which can sometimes ameliorate reading difficulties. It’s a noninvasive therapy that can’t hurt and may help to improve a student’s literacy skills. See: cognibeat.com/cognibeatsagileeye/ for more information.
Varda Epstein is a content writer and editor for CogniBeat, a company that aims to help people with learning disabilities by offering AgileEye technology, compassion, and information.