Penelope Rance

My UX research & design ramblings

Dyslexia and Me

As a child at school I was diagnosed as being mildly dyslexic, which at the time meant being pulled out of class on a Wednesday morning to do spelling exercises.

I cannot say these worked as it was all about phonetics which I still find impossible now.

It is only as I have got older and started looking into accessibilty issues with my job that I have realised just how varied people's experiences of dyslexia (and all disabilities for that matter) are.

Think for a moment about what you think dyslexic means. Most people think it means I cannot spell and reading will be hard.

Yesterday I saw a simulation of what dyslexics see when trying to read and I have to say it did not resonate for me. But that does not mean it will not for some people.

To be honest I love reading and I think I read more that a lot of people I know. (A couple of hours on a train each day helps.) Yes I am a little slower and I find words split over two lines very hard to decipher (newspapers drive me crazy). If I am reading when tired I do sometimes get stuck finding the next line to read but a finger on the page helps here (less so on a screen). I tend to skip words that I do not understand or cannot work out. And if you are writing a novel please name your characters from different parts of the alphabet. I know I skim names and if they begin with the same letter I am going to get them muddled up throughout the book which can make murder mysteries more interesting/confusing!

And yes my spelling can be pretty bad. And this does sometimes limit what I can say when writing, which also drives me crazy! I know the word I want but I just cannot spell it. I fear a permanent loss of voice because then I would not even be able to ask for help.

But there are ways round this. Google has been a god send. It does not always get it right, but I would say it does at least 90% of the time. Then there is my wonderful husband who not only spells words for me all the time, but also proofreads pretty much everything I write. Even non dyslexics would benefit from someone else proofreading their work. (The number of articles I read that have stupid mistakes in them is unbelievable - yes I can spot a mistake even if I cannot correct it. As someone looking for interesting work to tweet about on behalf of the Ladies that UX London, if your work has too many mistakes I will not use it however interesting or relevant it is. Sorry.)

"I fear a permanent loss of voice because then I would not even be able to ask for help."

Do not tell a dyslexic to look a word up in the dictionary. I mean if you do not know how to spell it how can you find it in a big list of words. I normally know the first letter to look for, but the second letter can throw me and stick me in completely the wrong section.

And if I ask you how to spell something, do not just make sounds at me. As I said above, phonetics do nothing for me (although they might help some people). Just give me the letters in the right order slowly so I can write them down.

Recently I found out there is a condition called Aphantasia which means you cannot visualise things. As a very visual person I find this hard to imagine. How can you not see the thing you are about to draw or describe in your head first!? But then someone said a very large number to me. Something like 235,567. And it occurred to me that I cannot visualise numbers or words. I just see a gap where they go. Once they are on paper that is fine, but they do not stick in my head.

I also find it hard to remember things like sequences of letters or numbers, especially ones I cannot see, or the actions from a meeting, which is why I have always got a notebook and pen with me.

These two things together are why I need you to spell words out slowly. When you give me 3 or 4 letters at the same time I will catch the first and maybe the second but lose the rest.

This is also why I ended up booking an Uber for the wrong time!

I am not asking for any special treatment, but I have found it really interesting learning more about myself and spotting all the coping strategies that I have in place that I did not even realise. Everyone writes up the minutes from their meetings as soon as possible so they do not forget what happened, right?

The key is to remember that everyone is different, and although that does make designing a good experience harder we should embrace those differences. It would be boring if we were all the same.

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