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Do dyslexics need a specially designed font?


Here's an example of the font Dyslexie.

A Dutch graphic artist claims he's created a font that can make reading easier on dyslexics. Christian Boer, diagnosed with dyslexia himself when he was 4, thinks the pot-bellied “b” and the barrel-chested “d”  in Dyslexie, the font he designed, helps people with his learning disability read better.

Some of the letters in his san-serif font appear to be a bit tipsy. The”j” is slightly askew, the better to distinguish it from the “i.” The “c” opens really wide, to minimize the possibility it would be confused with the “e.” The “b,” which looks like it might want to lay off the beer, leans forward a tad, while the “d,” which looks like it’s been lifting weights, leans back. In commonly used fonts, of course, the two letters are mirror images.

Dyslexie “is gaining popularity because people with dyslexia see/experience that it works,” Boer says via email.

As evidence, Boer cites an experiment done by a Dutch grad student named Renske de Leeuw. De Leeuw compared Dyslexie and the font Arial in 21 students with dyslexia and 22 students without it.  In his master’s thesis last December, de Leeuw wrote that dyslexics overall made fewer errors while reading Dyslexie, although their speed did not increase.

Reviews by the dyslexics in his study were mixed, de Leeuw wrote in his thesis: “The experimental font looks messy, like someone should buy a new printer,” one said. “The letters are much clearer!” said another.

Dyslexia researcher Sally Shaywitz is skeptical, to say the least. For one, Shaywitz said, an unpublished master’s thesis isn’t exactly solid scientific evidence.

 “As a scientist, I go by evidence and data, and I’m not aware of any” to support the notion that a special font — and there are others besides Dyslexie, such as “Lexia Readable”— improves reading ability in dyslexics.

One reason, Shaywitz tells audiences around the country, is “it’s not about ‘b’ and ‘d.’”

Shaywitz, a physician who co-directs the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, ought to know. She has has published more than 200 scientific articles, chapters and books about dyslexia, including the bestselling book "Overcoming Dyslexia."

She points out that dyslexia is not a visual problem: Dyslexics have trouble matching the letters they see on the page with the sounds those letters and combinations of letters make, her center's says. “Reversing letters is not a sure sign of dyslexia; a child can be highly dyslexic and NOT reverse letters.”

Do you have dyslexia, or do you know someone with the learning disability? What do you think about a specially designed font like Dyslexie?