| Oct 18, 2012
Dyslexia is a disability which is very sensitive to particular typefaces, both in print and on screen. We look at some of the typefaces we recommend to ensure that whatever materials you are creating, they are accessible to as broad an audience as possible.
Many dyslexic people find that the readability of a piece of text varies greatly depending upon the font (type face or type style) used. This article looks at some fonts that are recommended and used by dyslexic people. There is more information on the reading difficulties faced by dyslexic people and those with Meares/Irlen syndrome on our Visual Stress page.
Serif fonts, with their ‘ticks’ and ‘tails’ at the end of most strokes (as found in traditional print fonts such as Georgia or Times New Roman), tend to obscure the shapes of letters, so sans-serif fonts are generally preferred. Many dyslexic people also find it easier to read a font that looks similar to hand writing as they are familiar with this style, and some teachers prefer them. However these types of fonts can lead to confusion with some letter combinations, such as “oa” and “oo”; “rn” and “m”.
The size of the ascenders and descenders of letters (the ‘stems’ on letters like p and b) is also important as many dyslexic readers rely on recalling the visual shape of a word due to poor phonological awareness. If ascenders and descenders are too short the shape of the word is more difficult to identify and can make reading slower and less accurate.
In 2003, Natascha Frensch, a graphic designer at the Royal College of Art, designed a font specifically for dyslexic readers, taking into account the issues discussed above. There are examples of Read Regular on her web site at www.readregular.com and the children’s publisher Chrysalis is now using it for two-thirds of the 150 children’s titles it brings out every year. In May 2012, Dutch educational publishers Zwijsen adopted the Read Regular typeface, where it is known as Zwijsen Dyslexiefont.
Has also been designed specifically for dyslexia. You can download it from www.k-type.com/ free for individual use. It has developed quite a bit over the last few months, although it still has some minor irregularities. It tries to avoid some possible dyslexic confusions (e.g. b-d) by using different shapes, and is broadly based on Comic Sans, see below. Please let us know what you think of it.
Has been designed for Visual Impairment. Originally produced for subtitles and signs, there is now a screen version Tiresias PC font. Tiresias is now free to download. It is good for legibility, but doesn’t address the issue of dyslexic confusions.
A sans-serif font which maintains the basic design of Monotype 20th Century, but has been modified to ensure satisfactory output from modern digital systems. The design is influenced by the geometric style sans-serif faces which were popular during the 1920s and 1930s.
Calibri is a modern sans-serif typeface with subtle roundings on stems and corners. Its proportions allow high impact in tightly set lines of big and small text alike. Calibri was included with Windows Vista and Office 2007 and is now the default typeface for Microsoft Office.
This font is often recommended for dyslexia, but was actually designed for early reading. Also, it is quite expensive and can be bought through Adrian Williams Design and elsewhere on the web. Letter shapes are similar to those that schools use to teach handwriting, and ascenders and descenders are exaggerated to emphasise word shapes.
A modern typeface designed by Adobe. We have begun to use Myriad Pro in our designed materials and in part on this dyslexic.com site. Myriad Pro has a clean sans-serif aesthetic making it suitable for people with dyslexia.
A number of fonts have been commissioned by Microsoft with the aim of making on-screen reading easier and are included in many of their packages. While some have a fault common in many modern fonts in that they have large bodies and short descenders and ascenders, which makes the letters harder to tell apart, they are very professionally worked, so they are as clear and clean as possible at all sizes and in all media. We use a mixture of Verdana and Arial on our web pages. [Note: all the font illustrations are screen shots of that font as rendered by Internet Explorer in Windows with no font resizing.]
Trebuchet MS has short descenders but reasonably long ascenders, a small body size and generous line spacing. We find this font suits many readers.
Although there are thousands of fonts freely available on the web, most of them are fancy display fonts totally unsuited for blocks of text. We are therefore currently obliged to fall back on the fonts distributed with Windows and Mac OS for our style sheet.
Our other two choices are Geneva for the Mac and Arial for older Windows systems.
Some dyslexic people find that Comic Sans is one of the more readable of the commonly-available Windows fonts, and we have used it on this web site in the past. Others find it too bold, too childish or too informal.
For the iansyst website we have chosen to use the FS Me font. It was commissioned by Mencap and designed to aid legibility for those with learning disabilities.
For more information regarding typefaces for dyslexia, here is a great article from the British Dyslexia Association