In recent years, e-books have been touted as the best way to increase accessibility, but that may not be true for adults with dyslexia.

E-books have had a massive positive impact on the publishing industry by increasing the global reach of many books and allowing authors to self-publish. But for adults with reading disabilities, e-books may not be the most accessible option. This research indicates that reading comprehension in adults with dyslexia significantly decreases when they read e-books. So even in the move towards digital publishing, there’s still a need for physical books.


In a 2019 study, Eddy Cavalli, Pascale Cole, Helene Brethes, Elise Lefevre, and Samuel Lascombe researched how e-readers impact reading comprehension in adults with dyslexia. The researchers divided participants into two groups—university students with dyslexia made up one group, and university students without dyslexia made up the other. Both groups were assigned to read a short story on an e-reader. After reading, participants were asked a series of reading comprehension questions. Then the participants repeated the process, only this time reading a different short story with a physical book. 

Though the dyslexic group tended to read the physical book more slowly, they were able to comprehend the text at approximately the same level as their neurotypical peers. When the dyslexic participants read on the e-reader, however, their reading comprehension was significantly worse than that of their peers, particularly when dyslexic participants were asked to locate a section in the physical book or e-book, or when they were asked to recall the order of events in the story.

“Reading from ebooks reduces the sensory-motor interaction [or interaction between physical movements and mental cues] and leads to lesser literal comprehension, at least in dyslexic readers.”

Cavalli, Cole, Brethes, Lefevre, and Lascombe (2019)

These questions require an understanding of space and time, and the results indicate that students with dyslexia may struggle to locate information in a text presented digitally, which may significantly impact their ability to comprehend a text. The researchers suggested that perhaps the issue with reading digitally is that “reading from ebooks reduces the sensory-motor interaction [or interaction between physical movements and mental cues] and leads to lesser literal comprehension, at least in dyslexic readers.” (Cavalli et al. 2019).


These results highlight an ongoing problem with the e-book boom: e-books do not accommodate for dyslexic accessibility. The study was fairly small and additional research is needed in this area, but this study suggests that some pushback against eradicating physical publishing might be in order. E-books are very cost effective and cheap to produce, so many publishers—especially in the academic realm—find that moving away from physical printing is a way to keep costs down. This move, though at times necessary, might inadvertently disadvantage some readers. When considering distribution channels, authors and publishers should consider the outcomes of this study and, for example, plan to provide physical book options for neurodivergent readers. 

Learn more about how reading format influences comprehension by reading the full study:

Cavalli, Eddy, Pascale Colé, Hélène Brèthes, Elise Lefevre, Samuel Lascombe, and Jean-Luc Velay. 2019. “E-Book Reading Hinders Aspects of Long-Text Comprehension for Adults with Dyslexia.” Annals of Dyslexia 69 (2): 243–59.

—Phoebe English, Editing Research


Find more research

Take a look at Jessie Brunner’s Editing Research article for more ways to increase accessibility for dyslexic readers: “Which Fonts Are Best for Dyslexia?

To learn more about screen reader accessibility, check out Rachel Frei’s Editing Research article: “Editing Sentence Length for Screen Reader User Accessibility.”