For the 5 to 10 percent of Americans who have dyslexia, reading can be a maddening experience of flipped, reversed, or unrecognizable letters. “It’s total frustration. You read a word and one letter is turned around so the whole thing doesn’t make sense,” said Christian Boer, who has dyslexia. “Your eyes scan the word again and again trying to comprehend it.”
Boer, a graphic designer based in the Netherlands, decided to design his own font specifically for those with dyslexia called Dyslexie, which was recently made available for free download on his website (watch the video below to see what it looks like). Other designers have created another new font called OpenDyslexic, which can also be downloaded for free.
Both are based on similar concepts that potentially make it easier to discern letters — such as wider spacing between letters and weighted bottoms to indicate direction — and help those with dyslexia not confuse an “n” with a “u,” for example.
“I’ve gotten a lot of positive reactions,” Boer said. “A woman who is 68 said it felt like her eyes were opened for the first time.” Parents have told him that their children finally feel comfortable reading books, albeit those that use the font in paper or electronic format.
Companies such as Shell, KLM, Citibank, Pixar, Nintendo, and Talpa have purchased his font for their workers to use.
While downloading a new font may seem like a simple fix for dyslexia, experts in the field caution that more research is needed to determine whether such a change really works.
“Formatting changes in general do make a difference,” said Matthew Schneps, a former astrophysicist who now directs the laboratory for visual learning at the Univerity of Massachusetts Boston. “It helps people with dyslexia read more quickly and comprehend better, but not everyone benefits.”
He published a study last year involving 103 Massachusetts high school students with dyslexia, which found that reading text on a small electronic screen — a few lines at a time — helped increase reading speed and comprehension compared to reading numerous lines of text at once on a book page or computer monitor. Schneps, who has dyslexia, designed the study after accidentally discovering that it was easier for him to read scientific papers on his smartphone.
Rigorous studies testing the new fonts designed for dyslexia are lacking, Schneps said. He is currently conducting research on teens and young adults to see whether fonts with weighted bottoms, less symmetrical shapes, and more spacing improves reading efficiency. The study will use eye tracking to see whether a word needs to be scanned more than once. Boer said French researchers are set to publish results on a similarly-designed study using his Dyslexie font within the next few months.
“Some people will find improvement with new fonts,” Schneps said, “while others won’t because there are different causes of dyslexia involving different brain regions.” But there’s no harm in people testing whether a font works for them individually by giving it a try, he added.
“For me, I prefer a font I’m more familiar with,” Schneps said. “But I’m old, and if I introduce something different, it’s hard for my brain to get used to.”