Many easy-to-read fonts already exist on computers. They incorporate the characteristics of sans serif, upright, monospaced typefaces, recognized as features enabling easier reading for people with dyslexia.
Newer fonts designed specifically for dyslexic readers have become available within the past decade. Some are free; some are available for a fee. These fonts assume that dyslexia is a visual problem, a problem solved by changing the size and shape of letters. These fonts are designed so letters don’t seem to move. A “d” can’t flip to a “b”; a “p” can’t flip to to a “b.” A “u” can’t rotate to an “n.” Letters are less likely to switch places as in “saw” and “was.”
According to research, the following characteristics improve reading for dyslexic readers:
- Sans serif typefaces. Serifs are tiny projections at the ends of letters. Sans serif typefaces do not have serifs. Times New Roman is a typeface with serifs. Arial is a typeface without serifs. Sans serif fonts are easier to read.
- Upright fonts. Upright fonts (sometimes called Roman fonts) show the ascenders (upright lines as in b, h and k) and descenders (descending lines as in j, p and q ) at 90 degree angles from the horizontal. Upright fonts are easier to read than italic or oblique fonts which show the ascenders and descenders as diagonal lines from the horizontal.
- Monospace fonts. Monospace fonts show each letter taking up the same amount of horizontal space. So a “w” and an “i” occupy the same amount of space within a word. Most typefaces, including the one you are reading now, use proportional or variable width spacing, allowing a wider letter to occupy more horizontal space than a narrower letter. Monospace fonts are easier to read.
Fonts created for dyslexic readers add a fourth typeface characteristic. They distinguish between letters often confused, like “b” and “d” with additional differences, such as angling slightly the round parts of the letters, or shaving off the thickness of parts of letters. Some of these fonts make the bottoms of letters thicker and heavier -looking than the tops.
Another typeface characteristic making for easier reading is the size of the middle part of letters (letters minus the ascenders and descenders, such as the rounded parts of a, c, d and p). The larger these mid-parts are in proportion to the ascenders and descenders, the easier the typeface is to read.
With these characteristics in mind, what are free recommended fonts you might set as default fonts on computers used by dyslexic readers?
- Arial, Helvetica and Verdana are san serif, upright fonts, but they do not use monospacing.
- Courier is an upright, monospaced typeface, but it uses serifs.
- OpenDyslexic is freely available to download. It is sans serif and upright for the ascenders, but it does not use nonospacing. Its letters get wider and heavier (like bell-bottomed jeans) as they go from top to bottom, giving letters a weighted look.
But do typefaces designed for dyslexic readers make that much of a difference in enabling them to read? We will look at what the research says in our next blog.