OpenDyslexic: ‘Does the new dyslexia font help?’ Review by teacher and students
October 7, 2012
By: Tina Burgess
Since OpenDyslexic, the new dyslexia font, has been in the news, one teacher decided to try it on Friday, October 5, 2012. The results were unexpected and quite insightful.
The free new dyslexia font OpenDyslexic was developed by Abelardo (Abbie) Gonzalez with the goal “to increase readability for readers with dyslexia.”
“Your brain can sometimes do funny things to letters. OpenDyslexic tries to help prevent some of these things from happening. Letters have heavy weighted bottoms to add a kind of "gravity" to each letter, helping to keep your brain from rotating them around in ways that can make them look like other letters. Consistently weighted bottoms can also help reinforce the line of text. The unique shapes of each letter can help prevent flipping and swapping.”
According to Abelardo’s Open-Dyslexic website, the typefaces include regular, bold, italic and bold-italic styles and is being updated and improved based on input from dyslexic users. “There are no restrictions on using OpenDyslexic outside of attribution.”
Free downloads for Safari and Chrome browser extensions and several Apps (WordSmith, Instapaper, Instafetch, Steel's Run, Dox on Box, openWeb, Clicker 6) are available on Open-Dyslexic’s download page.
Due to download limitations, the reading material used by the dyslexic students was Open-Dyslexic's “Try It!” demo page and Gizmag’s sample pages . Since all participating dyslexic students had successfully learned to read with the ”Help” method, everyone read at or above grade level. For challenging words, younger students used “Help” which prevented any kind of disorientation.
The students trying the new dyslexia font ranged from ages 10 to 18. The question they were provided with was,
“Does the new dyslexia font help?"
Below are some of the comments that the dyslexic students shared:
“It helped at first. I really liked it. I didn’t have to focus as much as with the regular font. The reading was easier. But after a while, the new font got actually annoying for me because I noticed the darker bottoms and I was really glad to go back to the regular reading.”
“I like reading normal books. I don’t want to switch back and forth.”
“My eyes didn’t wonder away or got distracted as easily as with the regular font.”
“When I read the normal font, I sometimes skip lines or words and I have to go back and reread it. It takes more time to read something. I can read this new font easier and more quickly but since I didn’t reread part of it, I didn’t know what I had just read. I rather spend more time and know what I read. I think I prefer the normal font.”
“No, that’s not for me. I’m only 11, but that’s what I think.”
“It really didn’t help me because I am a good reader. Maybe it is more helpful for someone who struggles with reading. Not every dyslexic is the same.”
When asked whether the OpenDyslexic font prevented their brain from turning the letters, the younger students unanimously said that it did help “a little bit”. Others said, “No, not really.”
The older students commented that because of having learned to read with the “Help” method, they didn’t struggle with turning letters anymore, just with skipping words or lines at times. “We struggle with new and complicated words just as much as other non-dyslexic students do. Besides, dyslexia is not just about reading, it is about how our brain works and how we think.”
When asked what feedback they would give to Abelardo Gonzalez, the students’ answer was quick and simple:
“Can he design an App that gets rid of all the advertisement pictures?”
During the discussion that followed, the new dyslexia font was already forgotten and the students explained that the real problem in reading something on the internet was not so much the font but the trouble of being distracted by images. “The developer of the font had no images on his demo page and that’s why it was easier to read and to focus. Our brains like to explore everything; it’s our dyslexic thinking. We go from point A to Z before we get to B; it’s much more interesting.”
[Teacher laughed. “Those are my innovative and observant dyslexic thinkers!]
When asked about her observations during the trial reading and any last comments, the teacher made the following concluding statements:
- “First of all, it was interesting to see that the more time the students spent with the new dyslexia font, the less they liked it. I would not have expected that.”
- “Second, I am glad they got to see two different samples. I wasn’t aware of the distraction by the images on the reading for my students. Since I don’t have dyslexia, I don’t think like my students and I don’t notice the same things.”
- “Third, - truthfully - if I have a choice of having students read easily and quickly, or slowly, I choose slowly. Reading comprehension is one of the biggest challenges we teachers face. Kids read but they don’t understand what they read and it creates so many problems, especially in standardized tests which focus heavily on reading comprehension. I rather have my students, dyslexic or non-dyslexic, take more time and understand what they read.”
- “And, last not least, I have worked with dyslexic students now for over 10 years. My concern with the new dyslexic font is that people are going back to thinking that dyslexia is just about reading. Like my students said before, dyslexia is how the brain works, not just about letters. I do hope that we continue to explore new means of helping dyslexic children, but if there is anything that I learned from my dyslexic students, - it is that we need to explore something in all directions, not just one.“
Based on Friday’s reading trial, it appears that Abelardo Gonzalez has reached his goal of increasing the “readability for readers with dyslexia”; at least for some dyslexic readers. However, the question raised by the students of whether the distracting images on internet pages can be eliminated for dyslexics in order to increase readability and focus might be an interesting topic for future development and research.