New Font, New Dictionary Help Ease Frustration with Dyslexia


Dyslexic readers can view letters as contortionists, flipping and twisting with abandon on the page. Now, a Dutch designer, who is dyslexic himself, has developed a typeface that is removing some of the daily frustration faced by readers with dyslexi.

His name is Christian Boer, and the typeface is called Dyslexie. Boer put all 26 letters of the alphabet through a process which “weighed them down” in order for similar letters to be more easily differentiated. Oliver Wainwright, reporting for The Guardian, writes that the typeface is on show at the Istanbul Design Biennial.

“When they’re reading, people with dyslexia often unconsciously switch, rotate and mirror letters in their minds,” says Boer. “Traditional typefaces make this worse, because they base some letter designs on others, inadvertently creating ‘twin letters’ for people with dyslexia.”

In an effort to counteract this perception dilemma, Boer tweaked each letter uniquely. He altered the letters down by adding more “weight” to the bottom of the letter, as the heavy baseline makes it more difficult for the letters to be “flipped”. He then altered letters that were similar to one another through the use of distortion, slanting, and enlarging openings, after which it becomes more difficult to confuse the letters.

Other similar letters are heightened or are given subtle deformities like having the tails lengthened. Sometimes the distance between each letter is increased to avoid crowding.

Capital letters are printed in bold so that dyslexic readers can more readily spot where sentences end and begin. The color of the font defaults to a dark blue color which is more pleasant for dyslexics.

The typeface was Boer’s final thesis at Utrecht Academy in 2008 and has been researched at the University of Amsterdam and the University of Twente. It was found that 84% of readers could read faster when Dyslexie was used, and 77% made fewer mistakes in their reading.

Some have the misconception that dyslexia is simply a reader seeing the words on a page backwards. This is not the defining symptom, as there are other elements to the disorder. Dyslexia is a language-processing disorder which can make people misunderstand sarcasm, idioms, or other words or phrases which are not to be taken literally, according to Melissa Dahl, writing for New York Magazine.

Often, when searching for the causes of illiteracy, dyslexia flies under the radar, yet it is the most common reading disability with one in five people facing this difficult condition which is frequently misdiagnosed, according to the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity.

“Dyslexia crosses racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines, and with proper instruction and accommodations, it can be re-mediated,” the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity notes. “However, the diagnosis and treatment remains elusive in public schools, and even more so in urban school populations, African-American and Latino communities.”

Robbie Couch of the Huffington Post says that the font may be downloaded at no charge for use at home and there are downloadable versions for educational and business purposes.

Now, two British researchers are compiling a dictionary that “favors meaning over alphabetical order.” NPR’s Bill Chappell reports that people with dyslexia are often bright and verbal, but have problems with reading. Dayrl and Neville Brown, the father and son dictionary compilers, note that a standard dictionary is not as helpful for those with dyslexia.

“We teach literacy using an entirely different method to phonics, instead using the ‘morphological approach,’ which was developed by my father over 30 years ago,” Daryl Brown says.

Thus far they have coordinated 50,000 words, organizing them by around 3,700 morphemes. An article in the British newspaper the Litchfield Mercury explains:

“For another example, the traditional dictionary places the words ‘signature,’ ‘resign’ and ‘assignation’ many pages apart,” the Mercury reports. “But they are connected by the common morpheme ‘sign,’ pronounced differently across the three words.”

The duo told the BBC London that they have been working on the dictionary since 1982 at their research school Maple Hayes Hall. They are hopeful that they will complete it by 2015.