Depending on the style and size of a font, any of them can be challenging to read. However, creating fonts to assist those with dyslexia may be another challenge to creative ability. Font designers must consider how they can facilitate an ease of reading separate from traditional fonts. Some have attempted this endeavor, but how effectively are they achieving their goal?
What Aspects of Dyslexia Influence Font Design?
To determine what fonts could be more accessible for people with dyslexia to read, it’s essential to understand the disability. Dyslexia is a hidden disability. It can be a disability you are born with, or a disability acquired as a result of injuries, such as stroke or brain trauma. These are a few primary characteristics and signs of dyslexia:
- Difficulty spelling
- Slow reading speeds, reading too quickly or general comprehension
- Trouble with handwriting
- Struggling to pronounce words
- Issues in literary understanding
There are many associated conditions and degrees of severity, potentially affecting other abilities such as time management or organization. This is critical to understand as not every experience is the same, so developing the correct font may work for some but not others.
Some dyslexia symptoms are coupled with difficulty with numbers — dyscalculia and words — which font designers should also consider.
What Fonts Are Considered to Be Dyslexia-Friendly?
When considering an appropriate font for people with dyslexia, legibility, text layout and how well the eye can track the font is critical. According to the British Dyslexia Association, these are the characteristics of dyslexia-friendly fonts, use:
- Sans serif fonts like Arial or Tahoma since the letters appear less crowded.
- At least a 12-point font, though some dyslexic readers may need larger fonts.
- Larger spacing between letters, using a suggested 35% average letter width — letters too spread out can cause just as many issues as letters too close together.
- Lowercase letters, as they are easier to read.
- Bold to emphasize important points, but avoid italics or underlining as that can visually crowd text.
Not only do the font characteristics affect reading ability, but surrounding website aspects could change to improve the experience. Having single-color backgrounds is vital for readability. Suppose you are curating a digital space for specific students instead of creating a website for public access. In that case, you could ask them if particular colors are off-putting or cause them difficulty. For some, white may be too jarring and a softer cream may be more suitable.
The font must also be in a dark color or black to provide significant enough contrast. There shouldn’t be any transparency effects or changes to the font if the cursor glides over the text. Contrast can also come in the form of white space, providing enough visual distinctions between paragraphs of text for easy readability.
Are There Fonts Already Made for People With Dyslexia?
Designers have created fonts to help with dyslexia, such as OpenDyslexic, which is designed with heavy weighted bottoms to help guide readers. It also has slightly different unique shapes for each similar-looking letter to help prevent the mind from displacing letters.
Another popular font is Dyslexie. It contains similar design methods as OpenDyslexic, such as weighted accents. However, it also has longer sticks for letters like “p” and “h” to help distinguish them further from other lowercase letters especially.
One of the most contentious debates in the typography scene is Comic Sans. Met with disdain as a juvenile font, some argue it is helpful for people with dyslexia. However, there is a lack of scientific research on this specific claim, as most suggestions for its efficacy are anecdotal.
Regardless, this debate sparks interesting conversations surrounding typefaces and how aesthetics may not be the end-all-be-all for designers. Sometimes, practicality and usability are prime when creating a font accessible to readers.
Do Dyslexia Fonts Actually Help?
With the available information, many designers and researchers want to unravel more details about the world of dyslexia-friendly fonts. But, it is a relatively new interest, so with what humans have uncovered to this point, will this effort provide long-lasting results?
The sources are inconclusive. Some advocate the research isn’t there, and more will need to determine if it’s worth it outside of anecdotal evidence. Some choose to clarify the distinction that dyslexia is a problem with language, not vision, so creating fonts for distinct visual differences may or may not provide benefits for readers with dyslexia. It could be entirely personal.
OpenDyslexic and Dyslexie have had studies performed against other fonts, like Arial and Times New Roman, to see if it helps. For OpenDyslexic, the single study showed the group preferred reading in different fonts, as they found the experience more accessible. Dyslexie found similar results, showing no more significant benefit for reading in Dyslexie compared to other commonly known easy-to-read fonts.
In another study analyzing 12 different typefaces, Courier was the most helpful in decreasing fixation time, whereas italic alternatives made reading more complicated. Dyslexia-friendly fonts were also among this study, but the preferences were sans serif, monospaced and roman fonts. Serif fonts, while visually appealing, do not generate results in these studies.
Many institutions instruct that typeface is only one part of the puzzle when trying to help readability. There are other accommodations to consider, such as text-to-speech software and video to help students with comprehension. The question is whether or not priorities should be placed on creating dyslexia-friendly fonts over extending accessibility for these other accommodations — this is still up in the air.
An Experiment With Dyslexia-Friendly Fonts
Designers are experimenting with creating different shapes for letters and weighing other parts of the world to develop more individualized looks. For people with dyslexia, this may prove helpful in their reading experiences. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough proof to say one way or the other.
However, if what exists on the market currently assists anyone, then the niche is still worth exploring for more concrete answers. Typography is all about experimentation, and creating more dyslexia-friendly fonts could help make typefaces more accessible.