When Abelardo Gonzalez learned in 2011 that there was no typeface tailored to the needs of dyslexic readers, the young mobile app designer set to work developing the world’s first open-source font with this in mind, OpenDyslexic. Thanks to his efforts, the Internet is now more accessible for readers struggling with this frustrating condition.
Dyslexia affects approximately 10% of the global population. This neurological condition causes difficulties with reading, writing, and spelling. Recent research suggests that dyslexics struggle to recognize and process individual sounds in words, preventing them from associating specific sounds with specific letters. Those who suffer from dyslexia often go undiagnosed and struggle throughout school years, despite average or above average intelligence. However, special instruction – along with resources like OpenDyslexic – can help students compensate for these challenges.
Abelardo began the process by testing the font against himself, his wife, and friends, revising as he went along. “There wasn't much research available on typefaces specifically for dyslexia, but there was for different characteristics that may help dyslexic readers: wider spacing, kerning, etc.,” he said. “I tried to put it all together.” The wider Internet community also provided valuable feedback on the design. The font is continually updated based on the input from dyslexic users.
Public reaction to the project has been overwhelmingly positive. Visitors to the OpenDyslexic website can read scores of Facebook testimonials from dyslexic individuals who have benefited from the typeface:
This is amazing! I'm pretty dyslexic and this helps me so much I almost started crying! I usually can't read out loud with out extreme stuttering but when I tried this font I could actually think about what I was reading, I didn't have to spend all my energy struggling from word to word.
I have been using this to write my papers for college and it's made reading and editing so much easier and manageable. I don't get discouraged as often. Highly recommended.
OpenDyslexic addresses some of these symptoms by including wide spacing and uniquely weighted letters. The heavy-weighted letter bottoms help orient the eyes so that dyslexic readers quickly identify the correct letter, and are less likely to perceive them as jumbled. The developers also claim that the unique letter shapes prevent confusion.
OpenDyslexic was created using Glyphs, a font editor used to produce and edit new fonts. The project is completely open-source, so developers can contribute to the source code on GitHub and users can share bugs or submit requests.
Many developers have applied the font to their projects. For example, Dyslite is an internet plug-in that converts all webpage text into the OpenDyslexic font, allowing dyslexic users to more easily navigate the internet. Beeline Reader has an OpenDyslexic version, and the e-reader Kobo can also accommodate the typeface. OpenDyslexic also recently released the font for iOS 7, which allows users to upload custom fonts to their mobile devices.
In addition to these digital applications, several publishers are printing books in the font, including Strawberry Classics, which produced a number of paper back classics – including Moby Dick, Oliver Twist, The Scarlet Letter, and Pride and Prejudice – for dyslexic readers.
For the future, Abelardo hopes to continue refining the font and adding additional language support. While reaction to the typeface has been favorable in the US, Abelardo admits that it has been better received overseas, where “dyslexia seems to be taken more seriously.” He hopes to solicit help from the online community to make the font available for other languages.