Accessible authentication: dyslexia and password strategies

Karen Renaud*, Graham Johnson*, Jacques Ophoff*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
443 Downloads (Pure)


The purpose of this paper is to reveal the lived experiences of dyslexics in engaging with all kinds of alphanumeric authentication mechanisms.

A significant proportion of the world’s population experiences some degree of dyslexia, which can lead to spelling, processing, sequencing and retention difficulties. Passwords, being essentially sequences of alphanumeric characters, make it likely that dyslexics will struggle with these, even more so than the rest of the population. Here, this study explores the difficulties people with dyslexia face, their general experiences with passwords, the coping strategies they use and the advice they can provide to developers and others who struggle with passwords. This paper collects empirical data through semi-structured interviews with 13 participants. Thematic analysis was used to provide an in-depth view of each participant’s experience.

The main contribution of this paper is to provide evidence related to the inaccessibility dimensions of passwords as an authentication mechanism, especially for dyslexics and to recommend a solution direction.

Research limitations/implications
There is a possible volunteer bias, as this study is dealing with self-reported data including historical and reflective elements and this paper is seeking information only from those with self-declared or diagnosed dyslexia. Furthermore, many expressed interest or curiosity in the relationship between dyslexia and password difficulties, for some a motivation for their participation. Finally, given that the participants told us that dyslexics might hide, it is possible that the experiences of those who do hide are different from those who chose to speak to us and thus were not hiding.

A few authors have written about the difficulties dyslexics face when it comes to passwords, but no one has asked dyslexics to tell them about their experiences. This paper fills that gap.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)604-624
Number of pages21
JournalInformation and Computer Security
Issue number4
Early online date17 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2021


  • Dyslexia
  • Authentication
  • Qualitative research
  • Passwords
  • Accessibility


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