How can a font alleviate reading problems?

Dyslexics invert and transpose letters because they confuse letters that look alike. The switching of b and d, for example, is very common because the letters are simply reflections of each other. (In fact, dyslexia is much more common for English readers than readers of other languages, like Italian, in which words are spelled phonetically more than they are in English.)

One of the biggest variables today in how we read are fonts—the visual style of letters. Fonts are designed in part with aesthetic goals, but there are features of fonts that can make reading easier or not. For example, serifs (the little feet on fonts) help us read more quickly by training the eye to run along a straight line. Sans-serifed fonts (like those commonly used on the Web and used on this blog) are easier to read on screens than serifed fonts. Learn more about fonts like Comic Sans here!

If some fonts help us read, could a font alleviate the impact of dyslexia? One graphic designer decided to tackle that question for his master’s thesis. The designer, Christian Boer (who happens to be dyslexic), created a font that minimizes the reflections of specific letters, making it subtly easier for dyslexics to differentiate. For example, b and d are slightly altered such that they are not perfect reflections of each other. Other letters have small changes, like a wider c and a, to help dyslexic readers tell them apart.

When another graduate student tested the font with a group of people with dyslexia, it proved to be effective in reducing errors and easing the physical difficulty dyslexics can experience while reading. You can see an example of the font on the Scientific American website here.

Learn about how dyslexia affects the brain here.

We’re excited about this remarkable way to affect reading. Let’s harness the collective ingenuity of the Hot Word community. What are other ways that the look of language could transform how we read and learn? Share your ideas, and we’ll see if we can brainstorm something as helpful as Christian Boer’s new font.

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