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The Dyslexia Dilemma: Why Written Instruction Manuals Fall Short in Employee and Customer Experience

It’s worse than you think for more people than you realize.

Male aircraft engineer in the hangar struggling to read instruction manuals before repairing and maintaining private jet airplane. Dyslexia affects up to 20% of the population and can impact knowledge transfer.

The ubiquitous struggle with paper instructions has become a joke understood around the world. From one-sheet diagrams to comprehensive booklets, the way instructional information is presented hasn’t evolved much through the years despite major advances in technology and our understanding of human learning.

Decoding paper manuals is an outdated and challenging experience for most people, but for individuals with dyslexia, even the best text-based instructions can turn into a daunting obstacle.

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a learning difference that impacts a person’s ability to read and process written material. According to Yale University, it affects up to 20% of the population. Researchers have found it is a result of individual differences in areas of the brain that process language. For many people, it can be described as an unexpected difficulty translating written text into language — they must work to decode letters and words instead of instantly interpreting written language into real meaning.

How Does Dyslexia Affect Instructional Experiences?

Dyslexia affects job learning because it means one in five people may struggle to quickly and effectively comprehend printed instruction manuals.

To compound the problem, traditional instruction manuals typically feature dense blocks of text, small fonts, crowded layouts, and unfamiliar technical names, which can overwhelm and discourage those with dyslexia. The strain of deciphering poorly structured instructional content is mentally exhausting for those with dyslexia.  This significant percentage of our population may spend more time and effort decoding text-based instructions, which can lead to increased frustration levels during an instructional experience.

This lack of accessibility impacts individual independence and can lead to frustration and a sense of exclusion.

Related article: Why Instructions Matter

Best Practices for Superior Knowledge Transfer and Inclusivity

Visual and multimedia guides: Manufacturers should consider supplementing or replacing written instruction manuals with visual guides and multimedia resources. Diagrams, images, and videos can convey information more effectively for people with dyslexia, providing them with a clearer understanding of the product and its usage.

Clear and simplified language: Instruction manuals should employ concise and simple language, avoiding complex terms and jargon. Using bullet points, numbered lists, and step-by-step instructions can improve comprehension for all users, including those with dyslexia.

Digital accessibility: With the advent of digital channels, manufacturers can create interactive, accessible instruction manuals. Features such as visual animation, self-paced steps, text-to-speech functionality, and customizable color schemes can empower dyslexic individuals to adapt the content according to their specific needs.

User testing and feedback: Inclusivity should be a priority during the design and development of instruction manuals. Manufacturers should engage individuals with dyslexia in the testing phase to identify potential barriers and gather feedback for improvement.

Written instruction manuals, while serving as a valuable resource for many, fail to provide a satisfactory employee or customer experience for individuals with dyslexia. To promote inclusivity and ensure that people with dyslexia can fully engage with projects, manufacturers should explore alternative approaches, such as visual guides, simplified language, digital accessibility, and user feedback. By embracing these strategies, we can bridge the instructional gap for those with dyslexia.

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