Research Feature: 'A special font for people with Dyslexia: does it work and, if so, why?'
Developed in 2008 by Dutch graphic designer Christian Boer, Dyslexie font claims to make reading easier for children and adults with dyslexia. Letters in Dyslexie font are 'weighed down', with the bases of the letters being 'heavier' or thicker to stop the letters from flipping or rotating on the page. The letters are constructed to be visually unique, with differences between characters emphasised, to reduce similarity and confusion between letters and to avoid 'mirror letters'. Dyslexie font is also characterised by increased spacing within and between words, and bolder capital letters and punctuation marks, with the aim of making the start and end of sentences clear and reducing the 'fusion' or 'crowding' of letters.
Dyslexie font has received considerable media attention – including recent media coverage in Australia with the announcement that books in the Dyslexie typeface will soon be available in Australia.
So, does Dyslexie work and, if so, why?
The research reported by Marinus et al. (in press) looked to answer this question by comparing reading performance for text presented in Dyslexie and Arial fonts.
The text presented in Arial font either matched Dyslexie text on letter size but used standard Arial spacing OR matched Dyslexie on letter size and incorporated increased spacing between letters and words overall OR matched Dyslexie on letter size and mimicked the spacing ratio in Dyslexie, of more spacing between words than within them.
Children assessed as low-progress readers were asked to read these text passages, with their 'reading fluency' (or number of words read correctly per minute) measured.
The reported research found a small improvement in reading performance for text in Dyslexie font as compared to text in Arial font with standard spacing (with 7% more words read per minute in Dyslexie). However, when the spacing between the two fonts was matched, there remained no such advantage for Dyslexie font.
The study also suggested that the kind of spacing is important: more spacing between words than within words seemed to produce greater improvement than increasing spacing overall. The authors attribute this to the increased spacing between words helping readers to delineate one word from the next in a sentence.
In sum, the authors suggest that any improvements from the use of Dyslexie font seem to be completely due to Dyslexie's spacing aspects. Between- and within- word spacing factors, then, and not specific letter shapes seem to assist in slightly improving reading performance in low progress readers.
As a proof of concept, the authors have also developed EasyRead, a free Chrome browser extension that applies Dyslexie's spacing settings to all fonts on all web pages you visit.
Marinus, E., Mostard, M., Segers, E., Schubert, T., Madelaine, A., & Wheldall, K. (In Press). A special font for people with dyslexia: Does it work and if so, why? Dyslexia.
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