Making an Accessible Open Logic Textbook (for Dyslexics)

In the design and layout of the Open Logic Project texts as well as the Calgary Remix of the intro text forall x, we’ve tried to follow the recommendations of the BC Open Textbook Accessibility Toolkit already. Content is organized into sections, important concepts are highlighted (e.g., colored boxes around definitions and theorems), chapters have summaries, etc. We picked an easily readable typeface and set line and page lengths to enhance readability according to best (text)book design practices and research.

We’ve started experimenting specifically with a version of forall x that is better for dyslexic readers (see issue 22).

Readability for dyslexics is affected by typeface, type size, letter and line spacing. Charles Bigelow gives a good overview of the literature here.

Some typefaces are better for dyslexic readers than others. Generally, sans-serif fonts are preferable, but individual letter design is also relevant. The British Dyslexia Association has a page on it: the design of letters should make it easy to distinguish letters, not just when they are close in shape (e.g., numeral 1, uppercase I and lowercase l; numeral 0, uppercase O and lowercase o, lowercase a) but also when they are upside-down or mirror images (e.g., p and q, b and d; M and W). In one study of reading times and reported preference, sans-serif fonts Arial, Helvetica, and Verdana ranked better than other fonts such as Myriad, Courier, Times, and Garamond, and even the specially designed Open Dyslexic typeface.

Although it would be possible to get LaTeX to output in any available typefaces, it’s perhaps easiest to stick to those that come in the standard LaTeX distributions. The typeface that strikes me as best from the readability perspective seems to me to be Go Sans. It was designed by Bigelow & Holmes with readability in mind and does distinguish nicely between p and q; b and d; I, l, and 1, etc.

Other things that improve readability:

  • larger type size
  • shorter lines
  • increased line spacing
  • increased character spacing, i.e., “tracking” (although see Bigelow’s post for conflicting evidence)
  • avoid ALL CAPS and italics
  • avoid word hyphenation and right justified margins
  • avoid centered text

The accessible version of forall x does all these things: Type size is set to 12 pt (not optimal on paper, but since this PDF would mainly be read on a screen, it looks large enough). Lines are shorter (about 40 instead of 65 characters per line). Line spacing is set at 1.4 line heights. Tracking is increased slightly, and ligatures (ff, fi, ffi) are disabled. Emphasis and defined terms are set in boldface instead of italics and small caps. Lines are set flush left/ragged right and words not hyphenated. The centered part headings are now also set flush left.

The changes did break some of the page layout, especially in the quick reference, which still has to be fixed. There is also some content review to do. In “Mhy Bib I Fail Logic? Dyslexia in the Teaching of Logic,” Xóchitl Martínez Nava suggests avoiding symbols that are easily confused (i.e., don’t use ∧ and ∨), avoid formulas that mix letters and symbols that are easily confused (e.g., A and ∀, E and ∃), and avoid letters in the same example that are easily confused (p, q). She also recommends to introduce Polish notation in addition to infix notation, which would not be a bad idea anyway. Polish notation, I’m told, would also be much better for blind students who rely on screen readers or Braille displays. (The entire article is worth reading; h/t to Shen-yi Liao.)

Feedback and comments welcome, especially if you’re dyslexic!

There’s a lot more to be done, of course, especially to make the PDFs accessible to the vision-impaired. LaTeX and PDF are very good at producing visually nice output, but not good at producing output that is suitable for screen readers, for instance. OLP issue 82 is there to remind me to get OLP output that verifies as PDF/A compliant, which means in particular that the output PDF will have ASCII alternatives to all formulas, so that a screen reader can read them aloud. Even better would be a good way to convert the whole thing to HTML/MathML (forall x issue 23).

forallxyyc-accessible

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