Today we have some excellent news from the intersection of science, art, and disability awareness! A Dutch designer unveiled his new typeface, aptly titled Dyslexie, geared toward people with dyslexia at this year’s Istanbul Design Biennial. Dyslexia is a neurological disorder that causes a disconnect between language and visual processing which results in the brain having difficulty processing text. With an estimated 10% of the world’s population having dyslexia – roughly 700 million people – I say it’s about time!
Designer Christian Boer, who is dyslexic, set out to create a typeface that would help readers with dyslexia. He says “when they’re reading, people with dyslexia often unconsciously switch, rotate and mirror letters in their minds,” and explains that “traditional typefaces make this worse, because they base some letter designs on others, inadvertently creating ‘twin letters’ for people with dyslexia.” What this basically means is that when your traditional, popular fonts (arial, helvetica etc) use the exact same characters in different orientations (“n” is an upside down “u,” “d” is backwards “b” and so on) people with dyslexia cannot (more or less) tell the difference.
To avoid mirror image text issues, Christian designed his characters with heavier bottoms – which makes sense because we all know the effect larger bottoms have on the rockin’ world and it’s rotational trajectory. Due to the heavier bottom portions of the characters, readers with dyslexia will be able to recognize the characters without inverting or turning the characters upside down in their heads. Additionally, by lengthening the ascenders and descenders (the parts of the characters that stretch beyond the two main horizontal guides), Christian was able to provide another indicator that will assist readers in discerning between different characters. Christian further separated similar characters by subtlety italicizing them and adding tails where possible. He explains that, “by changing the shape of the characters so that each is distinctly unique, the letters will no longer match one another when rotated, flipped or mirrored.” For formatting, he increased the space between letters and words and added bolder, heavier capitals and punctuation marks in an effort to designate separate characters, words, and sentences which will prevent readers from reading into the beginning of the next sentence before they’ve completed the previous.
Christian Boer is a hero! His new font is not only beautiful and aesthetically pleasing, but it is an actual tool that will assist readers and writers who have dyslexia. The introduction of this font into school systems especially will have a monumental and positive effect on students with dyslexia. By having supports in place to begin with, many students will not struggle as often and it will cut down on the number of students who will need to be pulled out of mainstream classrooms for specialized support. Allowing quick and easy access to this font will cut down on the stigma associated with learning disabilities which will allow children to flourish and learn in an open and unbiased environment, and that’s something we really need – safe spaces for learning.