To read this content please select one of the options below:

Accessible authentication: dyslexia and password strategies

Karen Renaud (Department of Computer and Information Sciences, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow; Rhodes University, South Africa and University of South Africa, South Africa)
Graham Johnson (Abertay University, Dundee, UK)
Jacques Ophoff (Abertay University, Dundee, UK and University of Cape Town, South Africa)

Information and Computer Security

ISSN: 2056-4961

Article publication date: 17 June 2021

Issue publication date: 26 October 2021




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.



The authors thank their 13 interviewees for their time, their honesty and for giving us an insight into the challenges posed by password authentication.


Renaud, K., Johnson, G. and Ophoff, J. (2021), "Accessible authentication: dyslexia and password strategies", Information and Computer Security, Vol. 29 No. 4, pp. 604-624.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles