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Some, but not all , people with dyslexia experience visual stress along with word decoding difficulties [2]:. Eye strain Pattern glare Difficulty sustaining focus Letter blur. Colored transparencies have been used successfully to reduce visual stress:.

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Some, but not all, people with dyslexia experience visual stress along with word decoding difficulties [2]:

  • Eye strain
  • Pattern glare
  • Difficulty sustaining focus
  • Letter blur

Colored transparencies have been used successfully to reduce visual stress:

  • The color of an overlay should be fine tuned [2]
  • Identifying the optimal color is done iteratively using the Wilkins Rate of Reading Test [8]

Understanding Computer Accommodations for Dyslexia:

User Experiences and the Role of Typography

Katherine Deibel, University of Washington

The ability to read…

is a necessary and crucial skill in today’s information society. From education to employment, reading plays a pivotal role. For people with dyslexia, however, reading can become a major challenge.

Dyslexia is a learning disorder with a neurological basis. Despite adequate intelligence, educational opportunity, and working vocabulary, a person with dyslexia finds it difficult to translate the written form of a word into its meaning.

For millions of people worldwide who are blind or have other print disabilities such as mobility impairments or learning disabilities that prevent them from using traditional printed materials, that limitation is a fact of life. It doesn‘t have to be that way.

Prevalence of Dyslexia

  • Specific learning disabilities are the most common form of disability in university students
  • 90% of people with specific learning disabilities experience difficulty with reading [5]
  • Dyslexia is the most common reading disability
  • Dyslexia affects 7-15% of the population [7]

—  Bill Gates [3]

Disabilities at U.S. Colleges & Universities

Current computer accommodations…

for dyslexia mostly focus on text-to-speech technology. Once a document is scanned in, the computer reads the text aloud. By letting the reader directly hear the words, the visual processing problem associated with dyslexia is avoided.

Despite their proven benefits on reading ability [1], these systems face serious adoption issues. Text-to-speech requires the user to wear headphones or play the sound out loud. In certain environments, such as a classroom or the workplace, either act can potentially draw unwanted attention to the user and thus discourage the use of the system.

Although text-to-speech technology improved their reading performance, adults with dyslexia refused to use the system in the workplace due to fears of being socially stigmatized [1].

Mobility / Orthopedic 12%

Speech / Language 1%

Blind / Visual 5%

Hearing 6%

Mental / Emotional 10%

Health 6%

Other 5%

Specific Learning Disabilities55%

Percentages are of undergraduate and graduate students registered as having a disability at 4-year institutions [6].

The next steps in research…

must focus on the needs and experiences of people with dyslexia. This information will be invaluable for creating technology that not only supports reading but is also willingly adopted into regular use. Towards these goals, the following two user studies are in development:

Personalized Digital Typography


can accommodate for visual stress in individuals with dyslexia by altering the visual properties of text:

Visual Stress and Dyslexia

  • Participatory Design of Reading Technology:
  • Work closely with a small number of university

students with dyslexia

  • Determine what does and does not work with

current approaches

  • Brainstorm and develop new computer-based accommodations
  • Target Date: Summer 2006
  • Altering the background color
  • Changing the font face and size
  • Adjusting line spacing

One printed to paper, many of these properties are fixed. Digital typography and computer-based readingallows these properties to be:

  • Changed on demand
  • Saved for reuse
  • Unconstrained by limits of paper
  • Survey of Accessible Technology Use:
  • Administer to university students with specific

learning disabilities

  • Focus on environmental and social factors of technology adoption
  • Target Date: Spring 2006

Automating parameter selection…

is necessary. The SeeWord project found that Letting users with dyslexia manually personalize typography on a computer significantly impacted their reading performance [4]:

Parameter Selection Procedure

Establish a baseline

Tune the desired typographic parameter


Wilkins Test

Adjust Typography

Additionally, alternatives to text-to-speech technology should be researched and evaluated as accommodations for dyslexia. One approach being studied is the notion of personalized digital typography.

  • 5 subjects improved (errors ≈halved)
  • 1 subject worsened (errors ≈doubled)


Wilkins Test

To prevent users from selecting typographies that hurt reading performance, a software wizard is being developed to guide the selection process:

Test with new typography


[1] Elkind, J., Black, M. S., & Murray, C.(1996). Computer-based compensation of adult-reading disabilities. Annals of Dyslexia, 46, 159–186.

[2] Evans, B. J. W. (2001). Dyslexia and vision. London: Whurr Publishers.

[3] Gates, B. (2004). Speech at the summit on Libraries for the Blind and Print Disabled: Moving Toward a Digital Future. Redmond, WA, USA.

[4] Gregor, P., Dickinson, A., Macaffer, A., & Andreasen, P. (2003, June). SeeWord— a personal word processing environment for dyslexic computer users. British Journal of Educational Technology, 34 (3), 341–355.

[5] Kavale, K. A., & Reese, J. H. (1992). The character of learning disabilities: an Iowa profile. Learning Disability Quarterly, 74–94.

[6] Lewis, L., Farris, E., & Greene, B. (1999). An institutional perspective on students with disabilities in postsecondary education (Statistical Analysis Report No. NCES 1999-046). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

[7] Sands, S., & Buchholz, E. S. (1997). The underutilization of computers to assist in the remediation of dyslexia. International Journal of Instructional Media, 24 (2), 153–175.

[8] Wilkins, A. J., Jeanes, R. J., Pumfrey, P. D., & Laskier, M. (1996). Rate of reading test: Its reliability, and its validity in the assessment of the effects of coloured overlays. Opthalmic and Physiological Optics, 16 (6), 491–497.

Does performance improve?

  • Based on the procedure used by optometrists to select colors for overlays
  • Visual stress is measured by the Wilkins Rate of Reading Test [8] and will be automated through the use of speech recognition
  • Like an eye exam, a single typographic property is iteratively adjusted till no further improvements are found

Adjust parameter until performance no longer improves



“Prescription” for the typographic parameter found

Optimal Value Found

For more information, contact: Katherine Deibel <>