By Hans Dekkers
Fighting for children and adults with Dyslexia is like anything else: You tap into all the research, you think out of the box, you explore ideas, and so forth. True progress rarely follows established paths. Dyslexia Fonts are an example hereof. Designing letter fonts for people with Dyslexia makes a lot of sense if you know that a subgroup of dyslexics complain about dancing letters, and difficulty tracking lines, etc. In the last couple of years two fonts have been specifically produced: Dyslexie (Boer, 2008) and OpenDyslexic (Gonzales, 2012). The former is a commercially marketed font, and the latter is Open Source. An IT engineer within Irish Project Management Software Company TEAMWORK.com took it upon himself to develop an Extension for Google Chrome to transform all fonts on web pages you surf into OpenDyslexic (Google in Google Play for Helper Bird https://chrome.google.com/webstore/search/helper%20bird?hl=en)
I always approach this question with great caution. No two people are the same. The scientific method seeks to answer questions like this by comparing Treatment Groups of people with so-called Controls. The former enjoys the benefits of the solution being tested, and the latter does not. Afterwards you compare results and draw conclusions. To date (based on my own research) there have been only two such research projects. One on Boer's Dyslexia font at Twenthe University in The Netherlands (Special Font For Dyslexia? Renske de Leeuw, December 2010), and one on OpenDyslexic at Elon University in the USA (The effect of a specialized dyslexia font, OpenDyslexic, on reading rate and accuracy. Jessica J. Wery, Jennifer A. Diliberto. Annals of Dyslexia, March 2016). This research indicates that working with specific fonts makes no significant difference and does not improve reading. This is not surprizing, as Dyslexia is primarily not vision-related but rather a neurological issue, with a common core in Phonological Decoding Deficit. However, a subpopulation of dyslexics do report vision-related issues.
But does this mean that it does not help? Reading is one of the most complex bioneurological activities we can perform. Very many factors come into play when reading takes place. These range from internal (visual processing, eye-tracking, focus, auditory processing, phonological decoding, lexical identification processes, semantic interpretation, working memory, cognition, comprehension, to name a few) to external (presentation of reading material, fonts and colors, mental focus or attention, distractions, environment). The aforementioned research tends to put on blinders and focus on measuring strictly one aspect. Not that this is wrong: It is actually required in order to properly measure something. But it does mean that one needs to understand what is being concluded.
An illustration... Reading in general, and reading struggles in particular are affected by much more than just all these technical aspects. Think of yourself, and compare yourself with a loved one: Do you share the same attention span, the same interest in contents, in writing styles? Can you handle distractions the same? Are you equally able to focus on certain texts? With or without illustrations clarifying or distracting you? Are you a visual learner, or more of a theoretical learner? The answer is obviously No. Perhaps most importantly in this context, is reading a struggle and are you forever searching for simply new things to keep you going?
In that context, there is only one way to find out: Try it. Some weak readers may actually quite enjoy the special fonts and derive benefit from them. Will these fonts help a near-illiterate child with severe dyslexia learn to read? Absolutely not. Will these fonts completely solve your reading struggles? No. Both are adequately scientifically proven to be a false hope. But may you benefit from these fonts? Possibly. Try them and see if one works for you or your struggling reader friend. I applaud Christian Boer (Dyslexie font) and Gonzales (OpenDyslexic) for developing these fonts. It takes hard work and determination to try to make a difference. Both fonts are appreciated by thousands of users. And if it benefits them... it might help you too.
Our Dynaread team members are required to hold themselves accountable for serving our clients in adherence with our core values...
Dynaread has been developed in the trenches of actual remediation, with our feet firmly planted on the ground. Scientific research is essential (and we consistently use it), but we also understand the realities at home and in school. Not all homes have two parents, not all Dad's or Mom's are always home, there is oftentimes no money, schools lack staff or funding. We listen, we observe, we discuss, and we build the best solutions we can for older (ages 7+) struggling readers.