Ways to improve your service for people with dyscalculia

 

People bullied me for failing to tell the time, always being late, shying away from numbers and being last in my maths class.

Teachers were mostly unsupportive and spontaneous number-related tasks or games at school paralysed me.

Even as an adult, I did everything I could to avoid numbers, including choosing a career in writing. 

I’m dyscalculic and dyslexic. With therapy and support from some lovely people, I’m now comfortable with it. 

Living with dyscalculia and using services

 

Like most of us, I use online services to check social media, book train tickets, order things, use online banking and pay bills. 

Sometimes services let me down. 

Overpaying and losing money

 

Most financial documents (like pensions, tax, insurance, and utility bills) are represented in tables, grids or charts. Unfortunately, lines and grids make it hard to see numbers. I make the most mistakes using tables and grids.

Because I struggle to read numbers, I’ve overpaid for my shopping, sent £200 to someone instead of £20, and withdrawn the wrong amount from cash points.

Being late and missing trains 

 

I have to visualise a clock face, sometimes drawing one to tell the time. I read the number 2 and the number 5 the wrong way around. I mistake the letter o for the number 0.

I need help estimating time or how long things take, so I’m often late for meetings and appointments.

I dread planning car journeys or booking flights (especially if there’s a connection) and have to get it checked by someone. 

I’ve missed trains and boarded the wrong train because I struggle to read the timetable. Nowadays, I confirm with someone on the train to make me feel at ease.

 

Getting locked out of accounts 

 

We all use PINs and reference numbers to access online accounts. I check at least 7 or 8 times if I’m entering a number. It’s an obsessive task and if someone’s around, I’ll ask them to check for me.

My authentication app gives me 10 seconds to remember a 6 digit code. After that, I wait for the 2nd, 3rd or 4th reset before I feel confident enough to enter the number. 

I get locked out of accounts, particularly banking, which means I have no access to money for a while. 

These mistakes are laughable and easy to fix, but some have long-lasting negative effects.

Low numeracy makes it harder and more stressful to manage money. For example, a Financial Conduct Authority 2020 survey found that those that had fallen into debt felt it might have been avoided if they had understood their options better.

Improving services for people with dyscalculia 

 

I made a poster on designing for people with dyscalculia and low numeracy with my friends and colleagues, Jane McFadyen and Rachel Malic. There’s a PDF and HTML version available on the DWP accessibility manual. 

The poster covers ways to improve the service experience for people like me.

Round numbers up to the nearest whole number

Research has shown that it’s easier for people to understand content when there are fewer digits on the page. 

Leave space around numbers

Dyscalculia can cause numbers to look wavy or appear to jump around on the page. Leaving space helps people to concentrate.

Fill in the information you already have

Many people with dyscalculia have issues with working memory, so remembering numbers is difficult. Let technology do the work for users instead.

Use sentences to add context about numbers

Show utility bills and payment plans in sentences as well as tables. Adding context helps to make the meaning clearer. 

Let people include spaces when entering numbers

Avoid setting time limits because people might make more attempts to enter numbers accurately.

Do user research with people who struggle with numbers

This one speaks for itself. Include people with dyscalculia when researching and testing your product or service.

Dyscalculia often co-occurs with dyslexia, so making all content (numbers and words) clear and easy to understand makes a design more accessible and inclusive. 

Dyscalculia does not make you stupid

 

Because dyscalculia is often underdiagnosed and many people have learned to cope on their own, it’s hard to ask for help.

The Dyscalculia Network is a supportive and welcoming community.

And you can always chat with me if you want to. I keep 30 minutes free every month to talk about anything. 

Designing for people with dyscalculia and low numeracy

The poster is hosted on the DWP accessibility manual https://accessibility-manual.dwp.gov.uk/tools-and-resources/accessibility-posters#designing-for-users-with-dyscalculia-or-low-numeracy-skills