Dyslexia Awareness Month: What Makes a Book Dyslexia Friendly?
It’s October which means that we are once again in the midst of Dyslexia Awareness Month. I do not have dyslexia myself, but as the parent to a child with dyslexia I am learning a lot and want to be an advocate for her and the 1 in 5 people that have dyslexia. You can find all of our dyselxia posts at the Dyslexia Awareness Dashboard. I also wanted to let you know that I recently had the honor of hosting a panel discussion on dyslexia and libraries as part of the upcoming School Library Journal Summit 2020 which will air on October 24th.
So a question I get asked frequently is this: What types of books should you look for to help a person with dyslexia? And the answer is complicated.
Why Accessibility Matters
We know that 1 in 5 people have dyslexia, but dyslexia is a spectrum learning disability. Not all people experience dyslexia in the same way. For some people, they may reverse letters. Or they may see letters kind of flicker on the page. Or lines may run together. Because dyslexia can look like more than one thing, libraries need to have a wide variety of options for the 1 in 5 people who have dyslexia so that they can find and choose the resource that is right for them. There is not one right answer to this question.
Formats to Consider in Creating a Dyslexia Friendly Library
Audiobooks are an important option that all libraries should make available. Ideally, you should have the book and audiobook available so that those who choose to can read on the page and listen to the book at the same time if they choose to.
Graphic novels are another important option that all libraries should make available. This means having a large enough graphic novel collection that readers can find all of their interests in the GN collection. And you need GNs for all ages and stages of life.
Large Print for all ages is also important. Former TLTer Heather Booth wrote this recent article about large print and equity for Booklist that everyone should check out. Large Print can help dyslexic readers of all ages as the larger font can help readers distinguish letters and they tend to have more white space on the page.
Hi/Lo readers are also a good choice. Hi/Lo readers, like books published by Orca, tend to have shorter paragraphs full of shorter sentences that make up shorter chapters in shorter books. All of this equals easier access for some of our dyslexic patrons.
What Makes a Book Dyslexia Friendly?
In terms of what to look for in a book, I recently attended a webinar in which Lorimer books announced that they had a line of dyslexia friendly books. Here’s a screenshot of the slide they shared highlighting what made their books dyslexic friendly:
The Lorimer Dyslexic Friendly books used Open Dyslexic font which many people with dyslexia find easier to read. It is designed specifically to weight letters in specific ways to help make them easier to read and decode.
Layout and Design
The Lorimer books also use several layout and design elements to help as well. For example, they don’t hyphenate words at the end of a line. The only time they use a hyphen is if it’s grammatically necessary for the word.
The print is left justified, which is another design element that is often recommended to be accessible for dyslexic readers.
They also use wide margins, more spacing and shorter lines and paragraphs.
The Lorimer books use cream colored paper, which can help prevent glare. They also use heavier paper so the pages below don’t bleed into the page being read.
Through research and feedback from readers with dyslexia, these elements have been found to help some readers. But again, there is nothing that works 100% of the time for 100% of the people who have dyslexia. Which is wide a wide variety of formats and options is important to keep our libraries accessible to the 1 in 5 people who have dyslexia.
What Does All of This Mean for Libraries Trying to Serve People with Dyslexia in Intentional Ways?
So what we want to be doing in our libraries, school and public, is have a wide variety of formats and types – including audio books, large print, graphic novels, and hi/lo books – available and easy to find and use for our patrons. We should have the same titles available across the formats so they can be mixed and matched in a way that works best for a particular reader. And keep in mind that although I am talking here specifically about serving our youth with dyslexia, this is true for patrons of all ages and for a large number of disabilities outside of just dyslexia. Making sure our libraries are accessible is an equity issue. We are not equitably serving our entire public if we are not thinking about the ways that we can better make information and books accessible to the 1 in 5 patrons that have dyslexia.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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