17 September 2013

Africa: Special Font 'Helps People With Dyslexia Read'

A Dutch graphic designer has developed a special font to help people with dyslexia read text accurately.

Dyslexia is a condition that makes it difficult to learn to read and to read. It can inhibit overall learning and affects around one in ten people worldwide, regardless of culture or language.

A licence for the font, Dyslexie, starts at around US$13 a year, and can be purchased for individual users, schools or businesses, and as a web plugin to use with other software applications.

"I have dyslexia myself and at art school I had to read a badly printed English text," says the font's designer, Christian Boer, from studiostudio design firm in the Netherlands.

"This was very hard for me and it took me a long time to read. Sometimes I even fell asleep because it was so tiring," Boer tells SciDev.Net.

When his teacher asked him to explain what it was like to read with dyslexia, he made a short film about it that inspired his graduation project and research into dyslexia.

"People with dyslexia mirror, switch and turn the letters. I made a movie in my head in which I altered the letters and saw them as 3D objects so they wouldn't turn, switch and mirror anymore," says Boer.

The design involves making small changes to the letters that makes them harder to confuse than text written in other fonts. For example, increasing the openings within the letters c and e helps dyslexics to distinguish between them.

Boer says that, when possible, his firm gives away the typeface for free to people who cannot afford it.

Research in 2010 at the University of Twente in the Netherlands found that people with dyslexia make fewer errors while reading words printed in Dyslexie. [1] A research project from the same university published as a master's thesis in May 2013 found the font helped improve reading accuracy. [2]

"There are several fonts developed for people with dyslexia," says Renske de Leeuw, author of the 2010 study, and a supervisor of the 2013 one. Not all the fonts have been studied due to lack of funds, she adds.

She says that using a font like Dyslexie could help to read and write texts, but that for its proper use "it is necessary that there is awareness and knowledge about dyslexia".

John Rack, head of research, development and policy at Dyslexia Action, a UK-based non-profit organisation, says that "clear layout, spacing and typeface can make a big difference if you are dyslexic".

But he adds: "Little research has been done to evaluate this and it seems likely that people differ in terms of the benefits gained from a font".

Manisha Shah, a facilitator with Dyslexia Africa, a company that runs training programmes to help parents support children with dyslexia in Nairobi, Kenya, says Kenyans are still unaware of dyslexia.

"Most dyslexics do not have a clue about the Dyslexie font," she says.

Only private schools, which are rare, have facilities to help dyslexic children, with money being the biggest obstacle to catering for children with dyslexia, she says.

But Shah adds that the situation is improving, with more media attention and seminars about the issue in schools to inform teachers and parents about dyslexia.

Link to 2010 study

Link to 2013 study

See video about the font.

See a TED talk about the font.


[1] de Leeuw, R. Special Font For Dyslexia? (Master's thesis, The University of Twente, 2010)

[2] Pijpker, T. Does reading performance of dyslexics improve with a special font and/or a colored background? (Master's thesis, The University of Twente, 2013)

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