AbilityNet Factsheet - January 2019

Dyslexia and Technology

Dyslexia is a condition that affects the learning processes involved with reading, spelling and/or writing. It is estimated that dyslexia affects approximately 1 in 10 people with 1 in 25 being classed as severely dyslexic.

It is what we now recognise as a neurodiverse condition. Neurodiversity recognises that humans are not all the same and a neurological difference such as dyslexia is a normal variation of the human experience with a number of positive and desirable character traits and a fundamental part of a person’s identity.

This factsheet gives an overview of some of the ways that technology can be used to assist people with dyslexia. Much of this help is built into devices or available for free.

Last updated: January 2019

1. What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia comes from the Greek ‘dys’ meaning ‘difficult’ and ‘lexis’ meaning ‘word’ so describes a ‘difficulty with words’. It affects the learning process involved with reading, spelling or writing (or a combination). Other activities may be affected as well – including spoken language, maths, memory and organisation. There can also be difficulties with auditory and / or visual perception. At the same time, however, dyslexics also often have enhanced problem-solving skills, excellent spatial awareness and high levels of creativity. A BBC survey has also highlighted some strong links with entrepreneurial success with 40% of the 300 self-made millionaires interviewed in relation with the programme reported as dyslexic.

Dyslexia is described as being on a continuum or spectrum, meaning that it can impact people in different ways. 

The kind of challenges to education and work can include:

  • reading and understanding new terminology
  • taking notes in meetings, seminars and presentations
  • organising information and revision
  • planning and writing letters, emails, essays and reports
  • maintaining a consistent quality of work
  • meeting deadlines
  • filling in forms
  • personal organisation.

2. How can technology help?

Dyslexia cannot be ‘treated’ or ‘cured’ but many of those affected develop effective strategies for successfully managing its impact as well as recognising and making good use of the many positive aspects that a dyslexic brain gives them.

Common technologies to help with reading, spelling and writing include voice recognition programmes, text-to-speech software, and spellcheck. Mind mapping and note taking applications as well electronic calendars can assist with organisation. Adjustments to how documents and web pages appear can also make reading more comfortable.

Help with reading

Changing the physical appearance of text

  • select colours you find most helpful for both the tex and background adjust the ‘font’ size or use the ‘zoom’ facility to increase or reduce letter size
  • increase the spacing between rows – to 1.5 or 2 times
  • choose a font that you are more comfortable with

Many dyslexic people are sensitive to the glare of the white background on a page, whiteboard or computer screen. This can make the reading of text much harder. The use of coloured background or coloured filters can make reading more comfortable.

Visit My Computer My Way for guidance on how to make these kinds of adjustments.

Converting text to speech

Text-to-speech software reads text from a computer screen and is an efficient way to get information from text without needing to read it. Text-to-speech software is also a good way to proofread as incorrect words or spellings are often more obvious when heard. 

Scanning with Optical Character Recognition

You can use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software to scan typed or printed documents into text that can be read by your device. There are also many apps available for smartphones that can take a picture of a page and perform OCR to create a text version of the page which can then be spoken out and/or saved.

Reading pens are about the size of a marker pen and can be used to scan over a printed document and have it read aloud through a built-in speaker or headphones. Most reading pens also have an inbuilt dictionary so you can hear the definitions of words.

Help with writing

Checking and correcting spellings

Word processing programmes have tools for checking spelling and grammar and will either highlight errors as you type or will correct misspellings automatically. 

You can also use voice assistants such as Siri, Cortana, Google assistant or Amazon’s ‘Alexa’ to ask how you spell words you are struggling with just by asking; “How do you spell…?” 

Predictive text

Predictive text tries to predict or ‘guess’ what you are about to type and complete the word for you. These can be used to reduce keystrokes, save typing time and improve spelling.  Smartphones use word prediction as standard, but it is a feature that is available on many other devices and in many other programs.

Voice recognition

Voice or speech recognition software enables you to dictate text to your computer and, with some programmes, to control how it operates. It is often a very effective and productive method for writing, correcting, editing and formatting text on a computer (and, potentially, a host of other activities) and is a good way to bypass difficulties with spelling as the software will generally do this by itself.

For more information, see the AbilityNet factsheet Voice Recognition - An Overview.

Help with organising

Mind-mapping software

Organising information into well-structured documents and reports can be very challenging.

Mind-mapping allows ideas to be jotted down quickly and visually without initially worrying about structure or order. Links between the ideas can then be added to give a visual structure to the connections between themes and ideas, which can also help with memory. 

Mind maps can either be drawn by hand or by using specialist software.

Most mind mapping software offers the choice to export into a variety of programs such as Word, PowerPoint, web page (HTML) or pdf.

3. How important is training?

Whilst many people are able to access what they need from software without training, this can mean that some tools, and understanding about more efficient workflows, remain undiscovered.  

Training tends to be most effective when it is spread over time and geared towards the specific needs of the individual, focusing on their particular tasks, abilities and challenges. Periodic training help users to practice and consolidate new skills in between coaching sessions.

4. How can employers / education providers help?

Under the Equality Act, employers and education providers have a duty to ensure that disabled employees and students are able to perform effectively. You are disabled under the act if you have an impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.

To meet the requirements of the Equality Act, employers and education providers may need to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure that disabled people enjoy equal access to perform successfully in their chosen career or course.

Any adjustments required do not necessarily need to cost a lot of money. What may be reasonable would depend, among other factors, on the size and nature of the organisation. This could include:

  • introducing some changes to work organisation / deadlines
  • providing personal training and support
  • making use of relevant assistive technologies.

Given the prevalence of dyslexia, making such reasonable adjustments in your workforce could help to increase productivity through improved staff motivation, loyalty and efficiency, along with reduced stress, sick leave and staff turnover. From an Education provider standpoint, making reasonable adjustments could help to improve student engagement, retention and outcomes. 

Without appropriate help and support, dyslexia could prevent individuals from gaining qualifications, accessing training or applying for promotions. Furthermore, employers or education providers who fail to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people are vulnerable to claims of discrimination under the Equality Act.

5. Useful contacts

6. How AbilityNet can help you

My Computer My Way

My Computer My Way is an AbilityNet run website packed with articles explaining how to use the accessibility features built into your computer, tablet or smartphone. The site is routinely updated as new features and changes are made to the Windows, MacOS, iOS, Chrome OS and Android operating systems. The site is broken down into the following sections:

  • Vision – computer adjustments to do with vision and colour
  • Hearing – computer adjustments to do with hearing, communication and speech
  • Motor – computer adjustments to do mobility, stamina and dexterity
  • Cognitive – computer adjustments to do with attention, learning and memory

Use it for free at mcmw.abilitynet.org.uk

Advice and information

If you have any questions please contact us at AbilityNet and we will do all we can to help.

IT support at Home

If you’re looking for in-person support, you can book a free visit from one of our disclosure-checked volunteers. Many of our volunteers are former IT professionals who give their time to help older people and people with disabilities to use technology to achieve their goals. Our friendly volunteers can help with most major computer systems, laptops, tablet devices and smartphones.


Copyright information

This factsheet is licensed by AbilityNet under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. View a copy of this license at creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/

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