Special Education

Can a Font Help ‘Cure’ Dyslexia?

By Liana Loewus — June 07, 2013 1 min read
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I got an intriguing PR pitch today from a Dutch company about a font designed for people with dyslexia. The developer, Christian Boer, has dyslexia and came up with the idea while studying at The Utrecht Art Academy in 2008. According to the press release, Boer has been nominated for an international design award for the product.

The website explains that the font, Dyslexie, uses heavier lines on the bottoms of letters, puts more space between the letters, elongates their vertical lines, enlarges their openings, and slightly italicizes them. The changes are meant to differentiate the letters from one another and to prevent readers from mentally flipping, melding, turning, and switching letters.

Having worked with hundreds of students with reading difficulties, I remember well what it’s like to be on the constant hunt for both low-tech and high-tech assistive-technology solutions. My mentors used to offer me tips for overcoming the most sticky decoding problems—print the reading selection on colored paper, handwrite it in larger letters, have the student follow along with an index card, put a colored overlay on the page. Each was helpful for a student here or there. But these were often tricks devised by trial and error, rather than research-backed strategies.

Dyslexie doesn’t seem to have much research backing it either. A very small 2010 study of the program—a master’s thesis using 43 test subjects—found that students with dyslexia did not read faster with Dyslexie, though some read with fewer errors. According to a 2012 survey, the majority of Dyslexie users indicate they read more quickly and with fewer errors when they use the font (though of course they wouldn’t be using it if they didn’t think there were benefits).

There are other fonts designed to combat dyslexia, including OpenDyslexic, which is free and now available on Instapaper. From what I can tell, the research behind them is lacking as well.

Teachers: What are your thoughts—is such a font worth a try? Do you care about the research base or do you simply want to use it with kids and see if it works? Have you tried such a font? If so, how did it go?

Here’s a video to show how Dyslexie “works.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.