Do Some Fonts Worsen Learning Disability?

One in five Americans suffers from dyslexia, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Essentially that means their brains do not process or recognize certain letterforms and symbols. When looking at words, dyslexics tend to rotate, swap, twist, mirror and flop certain characters, making it difficult to comprehend what they are reading. The word “saw” may be read as “was,” for example.

It doesn’t matter how beautiful a typeface is; dyslexics still find them hard to read. In fact, probably the most elegantly fine typefaces are the toughest to make out.

In the Netherlands, graphic designer and an admitted dyslexic, Christian Boer, decided enough was enough and began to design a font for those with this learning disability. He began his work as a graduate project in 2008 while studying at the University of Twente. The result was a font he called Dyslexie. An independent study conducted by a fellow student showed that dyslexics found it much easier to read text in the Dyslexie font. One graphic device that Boer integrated into the typeface was to exaggerate the length of ascenders and descenders so they would be easier to distinguish. He enlarged the opening of “C” and “A” to eliminate confusion. He weighted the base of the letter so the readers’ brain wouldn’t flip it upside down. He also made bolder punctuation marks and provided more space between letters and words to allow the text to be read at a more even pace.

Dylexie isn’t a panacea for dyslexia but it is being lauded by dyslexics who have tried it. The font is now available in English characters online. A major drawback, however, is convincing designers to use it. Perhaps it could be offered as a translation option, the way text in foreign languages can be instantly – albeit crudely – translated so you can get the gist of what is being said.