Most of the 15 to 20 percent of people in the United States who have a language-based disability suffer from dyslexia, a condition that makes reading and comprehension difficult. Those who suffer from dyslexia often transpose or rotate letters (a b becomes a q; an n becomes and u), and they have difficulty differentiating letters that look similar, such as i and j. Those who suffer from severe dyslexia might even see the letters moving, or in three dimensions, as they try to read them. All of these factors greatly impede the speed and clarity with which they can read.
A Dutch graphic designer and dyslexic, Christian Boer, developed a font specifically for dyslexic readers. It's designed to make letters more distinct from each other and to keep them tied down, so to speak, so that the reader is less likely to flip them in their minds. The letters in the font are also spaced wide apart to make reading them easier.
Boer introduced an English language version of the font, which is called Dyslexie, late last year. It's available for purchase, in either English or Dutch, from Boer's website. The font can be used on either the Mac or Windows operating system, but not on devices such as iPads. However, a software company called LingApps says it will soon offer an assistive reading and writing application for iPad that uses Dyslexie.
Boer created the font as part of his thesis at the Utrecht School of the Arts (he has since graduated). He says the font's effectiveness has been twice tested -- once in an informal way among eight dyslexic students he did not know, and later as the subject of a formal, scientific analysis as part of a University of Twente student's thesis. In each study, results suggested that the font helped. Participants said the font allowed them to read for a longer time and with better comprehension, compared to other fonts.
A number of U.S. schools are now using the font, says Boer. But there's not yet been any major study by a educational system or government to gauge the font's value in teaching young dyslexics how to read.
If you're dyslexic (or even if you're not) and are interested in whether it works, you can check out the Dyslexie website, which uses the font, of course. And check out Scientific American's deeper dive into the project, which includes a link to a Dyslexie version of the article, so you can compare it to the magazine website's font.
And for details on how Boer made the font, check out this video:
Author’s note: The original version of this post stated that Christian Boer attended the University of Twente. That is incorrect; he attended Utrecht School of the Arts. It has been corrected. I regret the error.