A Typeface Just for Dyslexics?

by Joel Friedlander on October 17, 2012 · 50 comments

Post image for A Typeface Just for Dyslexics?

I recently came across the announcement of a new typeface with an unusual design.

A reader directed me to an article in the U.K.-based Mail Online:

The free ‘gravity’ font that could make reading online easier for dyslexia sufferers

Apparently there are other type designs that aim to help dyslexics read more easily.

Wikipedia calls dyslexia “…a very broad term defining a learning disability that impairs a person’s fluency or comprehension accuracy in being able to read,” and says it can affect as many as 5 – 10% of any given population.

In the United States, that would be somewhere between 15 and 31 million people. That’s a lot of people, and it seems that if there’s anything we as publishers can do to help them read more easily, it would be a great thing.

According to some sources, people with dyslexia include Tom Cruise, Whoopi Goldberg, Richard Branson, Orlando Bloom, Salma Hayek and many others.

Designer Abelardo Gonzalez says this about his design:

Letters have heavy weighted bottoms to add a kind of ‘gravity’ to each letter, helping to keep your brain from rotating them around in ways that can make them look like other letters. Consistently weighted bottoms can also help reinforce the line of text. The unique shapes of each letter can help prevent flipping and swapping.

Earlier studies had shown that special typefaces could make reading more accurate for people with dyslexia and, to his credit, Gonzalez decided to create a typeface that addressed these issues, and then make it available for free.

Here’s a paragraph set in Adobe Minion Pro, 11 point.

Adobe Minion Pro

Here’s the same paragraph set in OpenDyslexic, 11 point.

OpenDyslexic by Abelard Gonzalez

Here’s a closer look at the design of the type.

OpenDyslexic by Abelard Gonzalez

No matter its ability to help those with dyslexia, this typeface won’t win any beauty contests, but of course that’s not the point. For people without dyslexia, this font looks like it would be very fatiguing to read.

It has no historical models, which is how typefaces are often designed, and the set widths seem odd to someone used to smooth spacing of letters on the type line.

In print books it seems impractical to make use of this typeface, since it definitely does not enhance reading for those of us without dyslexia, but in the ebook world it could be quite different.

Why wouldn’t all e-reader manufacturers make OpenDyslexic—or a similar font that has been shown to be helpful to people suffering from this disorder—available on all their readers?

It seems like the perfect way to use the flexibility of ereaders, with their ability—much to the chagrin of book designers—to change the font of any book in your library.

I bet that could potentially help a lot of those 15 – 30 million people.

If you’d like to try it out, you can download the font here: OpenDyslexia

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    { 45 comments… read them below or add one }

    April December 19, 2014 at 10:35 am

    My son (10 yrs old – 5th grade -reads at a “1st grade level” according to testing) is dyslexic and has been struggling for a long time. We have been reading to him and using audio books when we can. I just discovered this font and downloaded it to my laptop and did a little test. I wrote a paragraph with Calibri and then in OpenDyslexic. He was only 3-4 words in when his normal frustrations showed and he shut down. With the OpenDyslexic font, he was able to read the whole paragraph with only 3-4 mistakes! I was amazed and in awe! If children’s books are made available with this font, I would love to know how to get them.

    Reply

    Dyslexiefont June 11, 2014 at 6:16 am

    The original Dyslexie font is now free for home use
    Download it for free at http://www.dyslexiefont.com/

    Reply

    Holly Worton July 10, 2013 at 9:32 am

    Hello all! I know this is an older post from last year, but I wanted to get an idea of how things are going with your special dyslexia editions. I have a client who is dyslexic and who is considering using this font to produce special editions from his backlist. Thanks!

    Reply

    Abelardo Gonzalez October 28, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    Just read through this. You guys have awesome initiative. :)

    Reply

    Grace Brannigan October 23, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    Jo mentioned that maybe we could dedicate some blog posts to what we’re doing and I’m thinking it a little bit further. If anyone wants to be in on a coordinated effort for a post on our respective blogs in the same week or month or whatever, linking to each other’s blogs in the post so people can see the various types of books/writing we offer in the OpenDyslexic typeface, that might be even more effective. I would volunteer to gather everyone’s info and put it together if anyone wants to participate.

    Reply

    Jo Michaels October 24, 2012 at 10:10 am

    It also might be useful if we kept everything in one place as well (like a free blog). We could do a blog hop along with creating the free blog where all books using this typeface could be easily found. It could link to the font designer’s site, the logo, a page explaining what it is we’re doing, and have a submission page for books using the typeface so they can be included. Just a thought. If you’re willing to run the content compilation, I could work on the design of the blog itself via blogger and we could get together and produce it. Let me know.

    Jo

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins October 24, 2012 at 10:17 am

    All great ideas.

    We should start an email thread on this for folks that are interested.

    give me a mail at tracy @ tracyratkins.com

    And we can co-ordinate.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 24, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Tracy, I’ve been using Google Groups for ad hoc email list communications. Just takes a minute to set up and it manages the email flow really well.

    @Jo: I think the idea of a central blog based around the typeface as well as other typefaces that address the needs of dyslexia sufferers is really good and, I suspect, would generate traffic. It’s a great project with lots of potential, I hope you’ll do it.

    Reply

    Grace Brannigan October 24, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    Excellent idea. We’re all working on it! One central spot.

    Jo Michaels October 23, 2012 at 8:07 am

    I designed a quick logo we could all use. There should be a standard, no? If we all publicize it and use it, we’ll be able to direct folks to the books just by putting a small version of it on the front or back cover. Feel free to download and use. Only accessible via the link though. Share!!

    Linky:

    https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B28laHHvXhluTjFoUTNCaENSSTA

    Jo

    Reply

    Grace Brannigan October 23, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Thank you all for the wonderful input and tips, and thanks Joel for beginning this entire thread. I am actually going to create OpenDyslexic font in my two romantic shorts that are coming out in the next month or so. I’m very excited about this, and I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. I actually created an ad for a few weeks to give it a test drive. I currently have 10 pt. and 11 pt. excerpts in OpenDyslexic on my site for my romantic shorts. I’ve gotten much better feedback on the 11 pt.. For the 38 pages short story it increased the pages to about 52. I will use the front matter from Tracy and the logo from Jo. I think it’s a good idea too to have an identifying logo, even if it’s early days yet. Thank you!
    Here is the excerpt pages: http://www.gracebrannigan.com/dyslexic.html

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 23, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    Grace, great idea. I hope you’ll let us know any feedback you receive so other authors can gauge whether this might work for them.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 23, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    Jo, that is awesome. I hope you’ve sent this to the designer of the font because he might like to publicize it also. You rock!

    Reply

    Jo Michaels October 24, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Thanks. I’ll do that.

    Reply

    Diane Tibert October 19, 2012 at 11:20 am

    I just had a discussion with my sons (grades 4 and 8) and both pointed out something that I hadn’t considered. While an obvious note on the front cover stating “Dyslexia Edition” might bring a book like this to the attention of interested readers, it may also attract unwanted attention from fellow students. Not many kids want to tell their classmates they have dyslexia, so they wouldn’t announce it by reading a book in class with Dyslexia written across the cover.

    Because of this, I’m going to add a symbol or other type of character to the front cover, so unless someone knows what it means, they won’t know why a person is reading a particular edition. The book might be harder to spot at stores, but not online where it can be clearly identified.

    Just a thought for anyone who wants to try this for children’s books.

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins October 19, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    That is a very good point. Perhaps just having it the meta-data block on the back will suffice or children’s books.

    Reply

    Diane Tibert October 19, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Thank you for bringing this font to my attention. I believe part of the reason my son became a reluctant reader is because he’s slightly dyslexic.

    I’m going to release versions of my children’s books using this font. I had planned on donating several copies of the standard font version to local schools, and now I’ll send this along, too. If it can help these kids have a more enjoyable experience when reading, it’s definitely worth it.

    I’ll check back to see how Tracy’s experience reveals and share what I learn.

    The wonder thing about self-publishing is that we can quickly put fonts like this to work to help readers.

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins October 19, 2012 at 6:34 am

    Well, I’ll be the guinea-author on this one. I will have an Open Dyslexic version of my book out at Thanksgiving. (Aeternum Ray – Dyslexia Edition, ISBN-13: 978-1480134553 ). I will report back here in a couple of months and let everyone know how it sold compared to the standard text edition. I will also provide some feedback from readers (if any).

    I really do hope this helps some folks enjoy reading. I have a son with DRD and I understand the struggle and discouragement. I guess time will tell if this will work for some people.

    Reply

    Grace Brannigan October 19, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    I’ve been doing more research on this font. I use Calibre to convert my books to mobi files. I read through Abelardo Gonzalez’s entire comment section and it appears Kindle touch might not support this. The other thing someone with dyslexia mentioned they have a hard time reading this unless it’s 14 pt. But now I’m just wondering if you’d mind sharing how you are going to create this mobi file? Do you use Calibre or another conversion program?

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins October 19, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    I haven’t tried to assemble a Kindle version yet, but i use MobiCreator.

    Reply

    titika October 18, 2012 at 7:09 am

    I’ve just been starting to learn that it is easier for many kids with a variety of issues to write in cursive than in manuscript. This article makes me wonder if it’s any easier for kids (people in general?) to read cursive as well, and if such a thing has ever been considered.

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins October 18, 2012 at 7:12 am

    I have always had a bit of a tough time with cursive. I don’t like to write in it, except for my signature.

    From what i understand, some schools are starting to do away with cursive and teach typing instead in elementary school.

    Reply

    Carol Sheldon October 17, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    This is great, Joel. I have a friend with dyslexia, forwarded article to him. Thanks for sharing. I read the paragraph for Dys faster than I did the regular font.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 18, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    Isn’t that amazing? Other people are reporting something similar, so thanks for the feedback Carol.

    Reply

    Grace Brannigan October 17, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    Great post Joel. @Tracy. I’d be interested in hearing about your further research if you find out people are interested in ebooks with this font. I’d considering offering my 6 romances as additional editions in this font.

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins October 18, 2012 at 5:31 am

    Thanks Grace!

    My book launches in a month. I am going to put out a “Aeternum Ray – Dyslexia Edition” to see how it goes. Hopefully i will get some positive feedback from some readers and some constructive criticism.

    Along with this, I might as well launch a Large-Print Version as well. I am curious what point size is considered appropriate for large print? 16pt?

    Reply

    Jo Michaels October 23, 2012 at 7:49 am

    Yes, 16pt and above is large print.

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins October 17, 2012 at 11:30 am

    This is a very interesting post and something that I think opens up a completely new area of exploration. For years, there have been “large” sized print for people with vision impairment and several books are in brail too. But this really does have the potential to reach 30m people in the US. That is HUGE. I could definitely see selling a lexicdys version of the koob. :)

    For S&G, I converted my book to Open Dyslexic. It upped the page count by about 20%. That is not too bad, but still a bit of a cost-inflator. Other than that, the usual print book costs like an ISBN for this edition make it a fairly cheap thing to offer.

    Easy-to-read was a critical thing for me as I chose my typography for the interior of the book. I must have spent weeks looking over different print samples before settling on one that I felt flowed perfectly. With this font, it looks terrible in print, and I think some PODs will have an issue with the thin portions of the typeface at 10 or 11pt. I just wonder if it really works, or of people with Dyslexia will think its snake oil?

    I would love to get some major scientific feedback. I did find a detail of the typography for Dyslexi, but I’m a bit out of my league on analyzing it.
    http://www.cbsnews.com/2300-204_162-10010111.html?tag=Gthumbnav

    I also found that master thesis on the font;

    http://www.ilo.gw.utwente.nl/ilo/attachments/032_Masterthesis_Leeuw.pdf

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    Tracy, that’s pretty fast work. Even though you’ve got 20% more pages, remember that a special edition like the one you’ve created can also support a higher retail price, since it’s a specialty item and costs more to produce.

    Many thanks for the links, that’s helpful.

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins October 17, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    Thank you!

    I have been playing around with this typeface a little bit and have a better feel for its use. At 11 point, it seems a little large on the page. 10pt is much more reasonable and drops that page count back to what my book was originally. It is quite readable.

    I do have a concern about hyphenation. Because of the spacing, without hyphenation you get some gnarly rivers on the page. I wonder if hyphenation is a detriment to those with Dyslexia?

    Also, I think a page in the front-matter to outline what this typeface entails might not be a bad idea. Here is my first stab at it, please feel free to modify or use it.

    “This book has been formatted to include a special typeface that may assist readers who have a developmental reading disorder (DRD or Dyslexia). The open source font, OpenDyslexic by Abelardo Gonzalez, utilizes weighting at the bottom of many characters in an effort to prevent letter inversion while reinforcing the line of text. This typeface modification technique has been shown to increase reading accuracy for some forms of DRD, but not all. For more information, visit dyslexicfonts.com.“

    I think I will work on releasing a Dyslexia Edition just to see if there is a market for it.

    Reply

    Grace Brannigan October 18, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    @Tracy. I would love to use your front matter you’ve posted. I actually contacted Abelardo Gonzalez because the website says credit must be given via a link. I got an email back, Abelardo said give credit with name, OpenDyslexic as you’ve done, and the website. http://dyslexicfonts.com

    Reply

    Grace Brannigan October 18, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    @Tracy: Sorry, somehow I missed the website link you put at the end. :(

    Tracy R. Atkins October 19, 2012 at 6:02 am

    Excellent Grace!

    Please feel free to use the Front Matter. Anyone can, and modify it as needed.

    It was really cool of Mr. Gonzales to put the font out in Creative Commons / Open Source.

    -Tracy

    Diane Tibert October 19, 2012 at 10:24 am

    Thanks, Tracy. I’ve copied and pasted your front-matter.

    I think the only change I’ll make to covers is to add a solid bar at the bottom and note that it’s a Dyslexia Edition.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 19, 2012 at 10:40 am

    Diane, Tracy and anyone else who uses this font for a special edition, please let us know the results in terms of sales and reader feedback.

    This is one of the most valuable ways to use reader communities to help support each other’s efforts.

    And thanks to Tracy for putting together the statement on the use of the font with attribution and link to the designer, and for letting others make use of it.

    Grace Brannigan October 20, 2012 at 7:36 am

    Tracy, another question. You mention koob and S&G, can you clarify? I’m not familiar with what those might be. I have several people that are willing to read one of my romances in this OpenDyslexic typeface but I’m trying to figure out the best place to test it. I use Kindle, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble and Kobo.

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins October 20, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Sorry Grace, koob was a typo, i meant book. (Sometimes i get in a hurry)

    As for S&G, that stands for “Sh*ts & Giggles”. (For fun).. Thats a bit of a hillbilly term we used a lot in my home town in WV.

    Reply

    Grace Brannigan October 20, 2012 at 9:20 am

    lol. I am familiar with S&G afterall.

    Reply

    Cynthia October 17, 2012 at 11:11 am

    This sounds mindboggling; yet, an aha moment as well. A couple of my relatives are dyslexic.
    I also have a publishing question. My first book came out this June. (It’s link is on my blog above.) I have a forty-five page “How-to” ebook ready that I was planning to put in PDF myself to purchase from my site. NOW, I’m wondering if I should flesh it out, then do the paper, e-book, and mobi conversions.
    I also have 3 children’s books I’m considering going the long route with.
    What are your thoughts?
    Cynthia

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 17, 2012 at 11:17 am

    Well, Cynthia, you’ve got a number of questions and a lot of issues that can’t easily be answered with the information you provided, in a comment. If you want specific advice about your publishing situation, you might want to take a look at:

    Q & A With the Book Designer

    Reply

    Dan Thompson October 17, 2012 at 10:05 am

    I’ve never been diagnosed as dyslexic, but I was able to read the new font at about double the speed of the old font. It would be nice to be able to put that as the default font on my Kindle and try it out for a while.

    Reply

    ABE October 17, 2012 at 9:58 am

    I am wondering whether there is a serif version of this font.

    Usually sans-serif fonts are nice on blogs – and extra line spacing makes it readable.

    Books usually have serif fonts – because there is more text, and the serifs help join the flow.

    Could you get both the gravity effect (indicating bottom and right side) and the flow (serifs) in a single font? Then it might be worth the effort to make the font available for ereaders – and easier to read for non-dyslexics.

    It might be even uglier.

    Or is the whole point of the font the absence of serifs?

    As a typographer, what do you think?

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 17, 2012 at 11:15 am

    ABE, it looks like the serifs have been eliminated to make the letterforms simpler, but I’m no expert on dyslexia.

    Reply

    Jo Michaels October 17, 2012 at 5:51 am

    This is a really interesting post. Because of the way the font is spaced, would that mean adjusting the kerning to pick up a widow would be a bad idea? Would kerning on a book cover or sign also be a neutral point? Why couldn’t a book designer release a special print version with this font and market it directly to dyslexics? Just questions that arose as I read. WRITE ON!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 17, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Jo,

    Thanks. Yes, I don’t think you would be doin any kerning with this typeface, since that would probably defeat the purpose of it. I don’t see any particular reason to use it for display, like on a book cover, since that’s a totally different kind of reading than dealing with long, gray pages of text.

    But I do think your idea of a separate print version in OpenDyslexia might work if it was for a book that had special appeal to people with the condition. Maybe some enterprising indie publisher will try the 2-edition idea and report back about the resutls. That would be interesting.

    Reply

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