Here's What Reading Can Really Look Like When You're Dyslexic
30 years ago, when Christian Boer was first learning how to read while growing up in the Netherlands, he made a lot of mistakes. His teacher didn’t attribute his challenges to what would eventually be diagnosed as dyslexia — she just told Boer to try harder, occasionally even calling him lazy and stupid. (One wonders if she’d have said the same thing to more famous dyslexics like Richard Branson or Henry Ford.)
Fortunately, awareness of dyslexia is much higher these days, and most of us have at least a vague sense that, for instance, dyslexics see the letter “b” as “d” or “p.” Yet it’s still common to assume that we can “train” dyslexic children out of their habits or that they’ll eventually outgrow the affliction on their own.
But, Boer warns, that’s not the case at all. “Dyslexia is a lifelong neurological condition,” he says. “You can explain the difference between letters to me today, but it won’t change how I see them tomorrow.”
Individuals with dyslexia experience the world three-dimensionally — not just with letters, but with everything. Paradoxically, they read more slowly but think more quickly. Their unique thinking leads many of them to become artists (including Boer, who makes a living as a graphic designer) and “visionary” thinkers who end up inventing things or starting their own businesses. People with dyslexia have trouble distinguishing between left/right and up/down, which isn’t exactly a huge problem in our 3D world — but when it comes to letters on a printed page, a persistently flipped letter has a different meaning than its mirror image.
As Boer grew older and awareness of dyslexia started to spread, he was eventually lucky enough to find compassionate educators who understood his disorder and nurtured his learning experience. He even went on to pursue graduate design school. For his thesis project, he decided to create something that would make his own life easier: a font called Dyslexie designed to counteract the singular neurological perceptions of dyslexic individuals. The font is available for use on computers and on most smartphones as well as on digital publishing tools like tablets, e-books, and more. For Boer, the font works so well that before reading almost any text sent to him over email or in a document, he lays it out in Dyslexie first.
Dyslexie has received a lot of attention, mostly because research suggests that it’s effective (though some disagree) and also because Boer has made the font available for free. Many educators and businesses already make use of Dyslexie. For instance, Project Literacy integrated the typeface into its logo.
Recalling an anecdote from one of his design clients, Boer notes, “They were creating an animated commercial and hired a dyslexic voice-over artist to narrate it. He wanted to be able to read the script fast enough to match the video’s pace, so he asked them to lay it out in Dyslexie first.”
For many of individuals and families who have used Dyslexie, the results are transformative. One mom emailed Boer to say that being able to read this font has encouraged her son to dream big.
“He is looking forward to the possibility to become an engineer, now that this is available for him,” she wrote.
In addition to the downloadable font that can be used in documents or design programs, Boer has also created a browser extension that will display any online text in Dyslexie. But for Boer, that’s still not enough. He hopes that Dyslexie one day will be available for use on even more platforms so that reading becomes almost as seamless an experience for people with dyslexia — who make up an estimated 5% to 17% of the population — as for everyone else.
Boer developed this infographic to bring the dyslexic experience to life; to make it easy to see how and why Dyslexie works so well, especially when compared to more common typefaces; and to demonstrate why the design thinking used in the creation of Dyslexie can be helpful for anyone who struggles with literacy.
We think words mean power, and so should you. Through Project Literacy, GOOD and Pearson are building partnerships for a more literate future. Follow the #ProjectLiteracy hashtag and visit good.is or projectliteracy.com to tell us your stories, help us ask the right questions, and take action in your community. This article was originally published May 11, 2015, and updated Jan. 26, 2018.
We think words mean power, and so should you. Through Project Literacy, GOOD and Pearson are building partnerships for a more literate future. Follow the #ProjectLiteracy hashtag and visit good.is or projectliteracy.com to tell us your stories, help us ask the right questions, and take action in your community.
This article was originally published May 11, 2015, and updated Jan. 26, 2018.