What is Dyslexia ?
Dyslexia [ICD10], also known as reading disorder and classified as cognitive disability, is characterized by difficulties with accurate word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities despite normal intelligence. This implies that people with dyslexia have more difficulty accessing written information and, as side effect, this impedes the growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.
The prevalence of Dyslexia ranges from 10 to 17.5% of the population in the America and from 8.6 to 11% of the Spanish speaking population however globally it has been estimated to be as low as 5% and as high as 17% of the population. Although dyslexia is also popularly identified with brilliant famous people, such as Steve Jobs or Albert Einstein, the most frequent way to detect a child with dyslexia is by low-performance in school. Popularly, dyslexia is identified with its superficial consequences, such as writing problems like letter reversals; but dyslexia is a reading disability with a neurological origin.
There is some evidence that the use of specially tailored fonts may mitigate the effects of dyslexia.These fonts were created based on the idea that many of the letters of the Latin alphabet are visually similar and may therefore confuse dyslexics.
A team of researchers from Spain presented an abstract during ACM – ASSETS 2013, which aimed to determine which fonts were easiest for dyslexic individuals to read. Based on the evaluation of 48 dyslexic subjects ages 11-50, reading 12 texts with 12 different fonts, they determined that reading performance was best with sans serif, monospaced, and roman fonts used in the study. They also found that reading was significantly impaired when italic fonts were used.
Surprisingly, use of the OpenDyslexic font did not enhance text readability or reading speed, although the font has been widely promoted as being designed for dyslexics. The study participants strongly preferred Verdana or Helvetica over the OpenDyslexic alternative. Based on their findings, the researchers recommended Helvetica, Courier, Arial, Verdana and Computer Modern, based both on reading performance and subjective preference; and cautioned against the use of italic texts.
What are the specially designed fonts available for people with Dyslexia ?
For the purpose of classification, we divide fonts in following categories:
1. Open-Source Fonts
OpenDyslexic is an open source font created to increase readability for readers with dyslexia. The typeface includes regular, bold, italic, and bold-italic styles. It is being updated continually and improved based on input from dyslexic users. OpenDyslexic is free for Commercial and Personal use. [LINK]
Christian Boer, a graduate of Utrecht Art Academy, was inspired to create the typeface by his own struggles with dyslexia. The font looks a lot like a typical typeface, but is designed so that the difference between each character is more pronounced. The University of Twente has done independent research on the typeface. Dyslexie is now free for personal use. [LINK]
c. Lexie Readable
Lexie Readable (formerly Lexia Readable) was designed with accessibility and legibility in mind, an attempt to capture the strength and clarity of Comic Sans without the comic book associations. Features like the non-symmetrical b and d, and the handwritten forms of a and g may help dyslexic readers. The Regular & Bold typeface are free for Personal, Educational or Charity. [LINK]
2. Proprietary Fonts
Rosemary Sassoon designed the Sassoon fonts for print for infants, children and adults, however not necessarily for people with dyslexia. Overall, mainstream and special needs children chose letters with a slight slant, plain (sans serif) tops and exit strokes on the baseline. These help to clump the letters together into words. With these consideration Sassoon font become popular among the teachers. The cheapest package is £28. [LINK]
According to Dr. Robert Hillier, a Senior Lecturer at Norwich University College of Arts, majority of dyslexic readers tested generous word spacing allied to the (light) weight and slightly condensed form (due to long ascenders and descenders) of the Sylexiad fonts were important. This would suggest that for subjects with reading difficulties it is the combination of spacing, weight and overall form of a typeface that is important rather than individual letterform design. The cheapest package costs £56. [LINK]
3. Non Commercial – Publisher only Fonts
A. Read Regular
Natascha Frensch, from the Netherlands, who is a dyslexic herself designed Read Regular while doing a master’s degree at the London School of Art. It is not available for purchase. According to official website Zwijsen Publishing House has aquried all rights to use the fonts. In order to buy publication in ‘Read Regular” font one can contact her by visiting the site. [LINK]
B. Barrington Stoke publishers.
Patience Thomson, former head of Fairley House School for dyslexic pupils, was the co-founder of Barrington Stoke publishers. According to company philosophy to make reading an enjoyable experience for people with dyslexia, their books are commissioned, edited and designed to break down the barriers that can stop this happening, from dyslexia and visual stress to simple reluctance. Barrington Stoke was named Children’s Publisher of the Year at the 2007 IPG Awards for its ‘outstanding commitment to children who have dyslexia or find reading difficult. [LINK]
Although font types does have an impact on readability of people with dyslexia, but finding the right font type is still a hit-and-trial methods. In general Helvetica, Courier, Arial, Verdana, CMU and sans serif enhance reading performance significantly and tops subjective preferences. Further research is required to validate specially designed fonts for people with dyslexia in order to optimize the fonts and promote the same among publishing houses.
Handler SM, Fierson WM, Section on Ophthalmology, Council on Children with Disabilities, American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, & American Association of Certified Orthoptists (2011). Learning disabilities, dyslexia, and vision. Pediatrics, 127 (3) PMID: 21357342
Luz Rello, & Ricardo Baeza-Yates (2013). Good Fonts for Dyslexia ASSETS 2013 DOI: 10.1145/2513383.2513447 [LINK]
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