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Aug 22 2013

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Good Fonts for Dyslexia – An Experimental Study

font-studyA team of researchers in Spain has recently published the results of a study to determine which fonts were easiest for dyslexic individuals to read.  Based on the evaluation of 48 dyslexic subjects ages 11-50, reading 12 texts with 12 different fonts, they determined that reading performance was best with sans serif, monospaced, and roman fonts used in the study. They also found that reading was significantly impaired when italic fonts were used.

The researchers included Arial and Times because they are the most common fonts used on screen and printed texts, and included Courier as the most common monospaced font.  OpenDyslexic was selected because is a freely distributed font specifically designed to assist dyslexic readers. The study included the italic forms as well as regular forms of those three fonts.

They researchers also included Verdana, a sans serif face, because that font is often recommended for improved readability. Other fonts included Garamond, because it is reputed to have strong legibility; Helvetica and Myriad, which are  broadly used in graphic design;  and Computer Modern Unicode, which is widely used in scientific publishing.

To determine readability of text, the researchers measured both reading time, and fixation duration using eye tracking data, while subjects read carefully selected 60-word paragraphs. Subjects were also asked to indicate their own preferences, ranking each font on a 1 to 5 scale.

Use of the OpenDyslexic font did not enhance text readability or reading speed. The study participants strongly preferred Verdana or Helvetica over the OpenDyslexic alternative.  Based on their findings, the researchers recommended Helvetica, Courier, Arial, Verdana and Computer Modern, based both on reading performance and subjective preference; and cautioned against the use of italic texts.

 

As someone who has wrestled with the issue of font choice and legibility for years, I was not surprised at the poor performance of OpenDyslexic. Although the font has been widely promoted as being designed for dyslexics, I find the font clunky and difficult to read, and others I have talked to had mixed reactions (some liked it, others not).

At the same time, I question an assumption underlying the researchers’ conclusion that font design is paramount. It seems to me that their research showed simply that the most commonly used fonts were also the ones that were the easiest for their subjects to read.  I remember how my son struggled as child with cursive, and his own insistence for using 14 pt. Times New Roman for all of his own written work.  I think familiarity with the type face and individual letter forms may be particularly important for dyslexic readers.  It may be that dyslexics are far more sensitive to minor variations in letter shape, form, and spacing. That they did best with the font sets that they were most likely to have been exposed to in the past does not necessarily mean that those fonts are the best for everyone.

You can read the study here:

You can experiment with some of the fonts used in the study, including Arial, Verdana, Times Roman, and OpenDyslexic, by using the Change Font function on the Dyslexia.com Site Customization page.  I personally prefer Lexia Readable, an alternative free font designed with dyslexics in mind, and Trebuchet, which were not included in the study.  Please note that you may have to download some fonts if they are not already included on your computer, particularly if you want to try the Lexia or OpenDyslexic fonts.

 

About the author

Abigail Marshall

Abigail Marshall is the Webmaster & Internet Information Services Director for Davis Dyslexia Association International. She is also the author of two books about dyslexia, The Everything Parents Guide to Children with Dyslexia and When Your Child Has ... Dyslexia.

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.dyslexia.com/good-fonts-for-dyslexia-an-experimental-study/

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  1. Anna Lin Thomsen

    Abigail, I totally agree with your point regarding familiarity with the type face and individual letter forms as well as the sensitivity dyslexics experience while reading. Arial still works best for me. Others cause dizziness and headaches.

    Anna Lin

  2. Dsylexic Reader

    Good recommendations for the fonts but the one on this blog is awful for me. It is one of the hardest fonts to read (TO ME). I couldnt even read all of it. :-(

    1. Abigail Marshall

      Try this free browser add on:
      http://www.dyslexiefont.com/en/dyslexia-font/extension/

      Our main web site at http://www.dyslexia.com/ allows you to choose your own font – see http://www.dyslexia.com/customize.htm — but that function doesn’t work for the blog. Unfortunately, I have not been able in the past to find a WordPress plug-in that allows site visitors to have a choice of font or other display options.

      However, I have now found a plug in that might work. I’ll try to implement this soon. Do you have any font that is a favorite for you?

  3. Vicky

    What is the Font the blog is written in? I found it difficult but my dyslexic other half thought it was great
    Thank you for the info

    1. Abigail Marshall

      Have you noticed the option to change fonts at the top of the right-side navigation bar? Right now the default font is set to Arial — but you can choose another and I’m always happy to consider requests for specific additional font options.

  4. Allison

    I found this very interesting! I have mild dyslexia and I never thought that changing the font could help. I’m going to find what font works for me best.
    Thank you!

  5. Nat

    I thought that open dyslexic was hard to read, too, when I first saw it. I got the dyslexie font recently, which looks nicer, but barely, and had the same problem at first, but after practice (I transcoded my favorite book into the font and read it) I now love the font. After a few chapters my eyes had adjusted to the new typeface and I found that I didn’t have to re-read sentences over and over and I wasn’t missing words like I usually do while reading. Reading wasn’t entirely mistake-free, but it was much better than normal.

    Ariel works fine for me, Times New Roman, too. Courier is the worst.

  6. Lillie

    I also prefer Times New Roman. I feel like the serifs help me see the word as whole shape. I am actually a very fast reader and I don’t look at the the individual letters but the word as whole. I always wondered about this as no serifs is always recomended but were never helpful to me. Of course every person is different and I actually never struggled with reading. My problem is dyscalcula and most of all dysgraphia. I can spell great out loud but when my hand goes to write or type the word the letters come out in the wrong order. I can usually see it is the wrong order unless I am in a hurry or tired. But sometimes, when I try to fix it, it just gets worse! Especially when I am writing by hand. The word “and” just ends up looking like the last letter is hybrid of “d” and “q.” I know looking at the word that the last letter has line going up from the circle but my hand just can’t remember up or down, up or down? It sometimes picks the wrong one and even if it picks the right one I am so used to it being wrong that I immediately correct it and make it go the other way, thus making it wrong!

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