General font for dyslexic readers

fitzin1's picture

Anyone know of any research or have any suggestions for commonly used fonts that have the below attributes set out by Dr. Robert Hillier?

[For]The majority of dyslexic readers tested it was the combination of handwritten style, uppercase forms, long ascenders and descenders, light weight, uniform strokes, perpendicular design and generous inter-word spacing that was preferred.p275 (Hillier, Dr. Robert ‘Sylexiad. A typeface for the adult dyslexic reader’ in Journal of writing in creative practice Vol. 1, Number 3. 2008. P275 – 288)

oldnick's picture

Maybe it's just me, but a number of these "requirements" appear to contradict one another, especially "uppercase forms" and "long ascenders and descenders."

OTOH, the vocalization ambiguities between p and b have always caused me problems, but most likely only because I learned to read at age four. I still speak in my mind what I read, but my lips don't move, so I guess it's cool.

JDL's picture

This is a tricky subject overall, prompting lots of controversy and research/claims of research.

The application is worth considering, such as if information will be in print or on-screen. In both cases, context would of course also have a bearing on any face's overall readability. This was an interesting thread for screen use, touching on the rather controversial Tiresias. Read was mentioned in a Michael Evamy/Lucinne Roberts book, although again, research is viewed as a little shaky.

Some other threads that may be of interest are here, here and here. Hope that helps a little.

Nick Shinn's picture

"...suggestions for commonly used fonts..."

The research that is done in this area is generally intended to produce new designs, rather than see what works best out of the many faces already existing. That doesn't make a lot of sense.

oldnick's picture

That doesn't make a lot of sense.

Except, perhaps, to people who design typefaces for a living…

JamesM's picture

> I still speak in my mind what I read, but my lips
> don't move, so I guess it's cool

Abraham Lincoln had a habit of speaking aloud the words he was reading. People around him sometimes found it annoying, but it worked for Lincoln.

hrant's picture

And before the wordspace was invented (by the Irish) pretty much everybody had to read aloud.


joeclark's picture

This again.

You probably meant well, but this topic will end badly, if for no other reason that dyslexics will never, ever read more than a page or two in whatever allegedly superior font you ultimately find.

dberlow's picture


quadibloc's picture

@Nick Shinn:
The research that is done in this area is generally intended to produce new designs, rather than see what works best out of the many faces already existing. That doesn't make a lot of sense.

The most well-known form of dyslexia is that which confuses letters like p and q, or b and d. Except for fonts especially designed for dyslexics, hardly any text fonts avoid nearly complete symmetry between the two.

Given that this is a specialized requirement, and that new things have been discovered about dyslexia recently, it's not that surprising that the simplest route from research on dyslexia to a typeface which reflects that up-to-date research would be to design one.

However, it is also true that there are out there some ransom-note typefaces, for example, in which every letter is absolutely unique. This should meet the needs of dyslexics, but then there is no uniformity to the line of text, so normal readers are slowed.

There's also the problem that if one uses typeface X as a way to differentiate between p and q, and so on, the difference is a peculiarity of that typeface, rather than a convention that could be used on a host of typefaces (since presumably we ultimately want to make the whole world safe for dyslexics, not merely one set of textbooks).

I see that Hobo is symmetric; Rustikalis DT has the required asymmetry, but it is much too noisy and illegible.

But I finally found one p/q and b/d asymmetric font that's also reasonably legible after a cursory web search: Cherry Lane by Jonahfonts.

So we can save the world's dyslexics by making this typeface more overused than Papyrus, Comic Sans, Hobo, and Times Roman put together!

If a subtle distinction is sufficient, there is perhaps Egyptian 710 from Bitstream.

And I see that there's the Open Dyslexic font available for free download. (There's also Lexia Readable, but licensing is required for commercial use.) - but in both of these, the p/q and b/d distinction doesn't seem blatant enough for a purpose-designed face.

Sassoon seems like a worthy candidate for consideration, as here the asymmetry is, in my opinion, sufficient - even though the page where I saw it somewhat dismisses it as just for children. Cherry Lane, after all, being a display face, is worse in that sense.

Hmm... there's also Sans Merci, or even Lazybones.

HVB's picture

@JoeClark - One case doesn't mean anything, but I personally know of a case that doesn't abide by your absolute "will never, ever read more than a page or two" statement.

My dyslectic adult son-in-law had a lot of trouble reading technical material related to his occupation. I pointed him to the font 'dyslexie' by Christian Boer, which he purchased and tried and says that he can now read for long stretches without getting tired from having to re-read and re-interpret so much. He had also tried some other fonts that had a similar purpose, with no success at all.

- Herb

JamesM's picture

> This should meet the needs of dyslexics,
> but then... normal readers are slowed

Perhaps it would work for text viewed on a computer or tablet if the dyslexic reader could choose the special font.

typerror's picture

Oh Hrant. Check your sources again.

hrant's picture

Paul Saenger, "Space Between Words - The Origins of Silent Reading". But I'm always open to "second opinions" (although finding time to read entire books is a stretch for me these days) so please do cite your own sources.


William Berkson's picture

At the most the Irish were re-inventing. Hebrew I believe always had mid-dots or spaces to separate words. Google the Dead Sea Scrolls and you'll see them. The origin of the alphabet is in Semitic languages, which originally didn't have vowels, so I am guessing that from the beginning there were spaces or mid-dots.

hrant's picture

I was referring to Latin. But "re-inventing" could be a -really broad- way of looking at it. And the vowel/no-vowel angle provides an interesting perspective (in that scripts with no vowels would be under more pressure to invent the word space). But do I remember right that Arabic originally didn't use word spaces? Even to this day they're often omitted for effect (something I haven't noted any other script doing).

Anyway to me as long as an idea is original (even if somebody else had already thought of it) it's golden.


Michel Boyer's picture

I am guessing that from the beginning there were spaces or mid-dots.

Yoram Gnat made fonts for various ancient semitic scripts and used them in sample pdf files that reproduce early documents. His first file on the top corresponds to proto canaanite, and words are not yet separated. On page 6 you can see on the right-hand side a reproduction of the original, and on the left a transliteration in Hebrew script (with guessed vowels added).

Six or seven hundred years later (around 1000 BC), on the Ahiram sarcophagus, the inscription, written in Phoenician, used vertical bars as word separators. So, separators appeared at least 3000 years ago. Yoram Gnat's second file reproduces and analyzes that inscription.

Added: Also Ugaritic, a canaanite* language written with a cuneiform alphabet, used word separators in the 14-12th century BC.
*It seems there are reasons to distinguish Ugaritic from Canaanite: wiki article.

William Berkson's picture

Thanks Michel for the broader picture. Hrant, I think it's likely that the Irish monks had seen Hebrew and/or Syriac manuscripts with word spaces, because these things were known on the continent of Europe, and I'm guessing that there was travel and education for Irish monks. If so, what they were doing was adopting a Semitic practice for Latin, the language of the church.

hrant's picture

I think it's likely that the Irish monks had seen Hebrew and/or Syriac manuscripts with word spaces

You're probably right* but they did lead the way where the continent (and the big island :-) failed; they deserve credit for something functionally highly significant that no other Latin-using culture managed to invent.

* They even had contact with Armenia!


Nick Shinn's picture

There are no word pauses in speech.
Except. For. Emphasis.

Word spaces have semantic significance.

A written method that would stick closer to speech (i.e. prosody) might have utilized the “phonic disjuncts” of syllables.

Per hap sat one sta gin the de ve lop men tof wri ting there were ex pe ri men tswith su cha me thod.

But the need for anything like this would have been bypassed by silent reading, which is not the process of “silently sounding” the text to the homunculus within, although it might seem like that, as it occurs in the process of learning to read.

The historic lack of written syllabic spacing might indicate that “silent reading” immersively accesses the meaning of words in a purely visual manner (although the reader can recreate the sound on demand).

Does silent reading activate the speech centres of the brain?

hrant's picture

Indeed that's the Big Deal with the wordspace: when you no longer have to sound things out (because reading words that are stuck together benefits greatly by sounding them out) reading moves up to a higher level.


quadibloc's picture

@Nick Shinn:
Does silent reading activate the speech centres of the brain?

I would think so. I don't move my lips when I read, and I read too fast to do so in any case, but when I read, I still mentally "hear" a voice saying the words.

hrant's picture

That's a byproduct, not an aid (assuming you're reading immersively).


Chris Dean's picture

@JDL: Thanks for the searching. For future posting, try to use informative language for your hyperlinks. Words like “this” and “here” do not tell the reader where they are about to go. Instead try, “Some other threads that may be of interest are Arial is designed for readability…” and so on.

Chris Dean's picture

See also:

Klein, R. & McMullen, P. (1999). Converging Methods for Understanding Reading and Dyslexia. Cambridge. MIT Press.

William Berkson's picture

>There are no word pauses in speech.
I've wondered about why we don't have any problem with no gap between words in speech, but I've got an idea When we read, we jump ahead to a certain chunk of space, which the fovea can capture. This may have one or more words or no word. And when we jump maybe the parafovea gives us an idea of where to jump. This eating of text in eye sized bites that may or may not isolate one word is probably why word space are so helpful.

In listening, we have a wave of signal that progresses through time, and we can mentally cut it at the point it achieves 'wordness', and start listening for a new word. So it seems like the demands of the mechanics is quite different.

Processing the visual signal seems to need a lot of parallel processing that maybe is different from listening. Maybe that's involved in dyslexia, to return to the topic.

david h's picture

> Paul Saenger, "Space Between Words - The Origins of Silent Reading".

Better than... or see the book by Walter J. Ong -- Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word.

"For anyone who has a sense of what words are in a primary oral
culture, or a culture not far removed from primary orality, it is not
surprising that the Hebrew term dabar means ‘word’ and ‘event’...

"Deeply typographic folk forget to think of words as primarily oral, as
events, and hence as necessarily powered: for them, words tend
rather to be assimilated to things, ‘out there’ on a flat surface. Such
‘things’ are not so readily associated with magic, for they are not
actions, but are in a radical sense dead, though subject to dynamic

"In an oral culture, restriction of words to sound determines not
only modes of expression but also thought processes...

"An oral culture has no texts. How does it get together
organized material for recall?..."


> Does silent reading activate the speech centres of the brain?

Christoph Scheepers - 2011 Silent reading of direct versus indirect speech activates voice-selective areas in the auditory cortex Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience Vol.23(10) pp 3146-3152

> There are no word pauses in speech.

And why not? what do you mean by 'pauses' -- length or duration?
Biblical Hebrew is a good example; also Samaritan Hebrew & Aramaic (close to Tannaitic Hebrew!) -- the stress is like word separators or word boundaries

hrant's picture

William, there might be a much simpler explanation: speech is much slower than [immersive] reading. You know those radio/TV commercials where the guy at the end says stuff like "side effects include sweating, death and constipation" so fast and with no pauses that you can't really listen? There you go.

BTW, word spaces are in fact critical to the smooth operation of the parafovea - it's the least it can do. But my view is that the parafovea is in fact able to provide far more help than merely telling us where the words are. Why would it be stingy?

"Deeply typographic folk forget to think of words as primarily oral

Actually what would be nice to forget is linguists' persistent delusion that reading is strongly related to sounds.


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