Did you know that one in ten UK children in the UK, according to the British Dyslexia Association, is affected by dyslexia? Did you also know that dyslexic children are taught, certainly in UK schools, using the same fonts and approaches as ‘neutral’ learners?
Problem is, as any dyslexic, like Dr Christian Boer, will tell you the process of learning to read and write is not the same as for others. Unlike other readers, dyslexics have a tendency to rotate, swap and mirror letters, making it difficult for them to comprehend what they’re reading. Some dyslexics, like Boer, see letters as suspended 3-D animations that twist before their eyes. The upshot is that it takes people like him a long time to read a passage of text, on average five times longer. Dyslexics make errors while reading and do not understand what they have read on the first pass so, as tests involving eye-trackers have shown, they need to read everything five times over. Everything. From road signs, Facebook posts, newspapers, handwritten notes, subtitles and schoolwork, a dyslexic reader will be struggling to understand them. Boer describes reading for dyslexics as like making sense of an optical ‘magic eye’ illusion.
For Boer conventional schooling in the 80’s and 90’s did not take his dyslexia into account, to his academic detriment.
“Nearly all of my time was spent learning languages. Learning languages took a long time; I would spend seven hours learning a list of French words only to get 5 out of 10 as a mark. For other subjects, my dyslexia pushed me into a lower stream at school, which meant I achieved better grades but had a lower level of education. For most of my time at school, I found school work and lessons really difficult.”
Boer was in the process of choosing his graphic design graduation project when the idea of creating a font that dyslexics could read, came to him.
“I was thinking of doing something with dyslexia and graphic lay-out. Remember, I always avoided difficult subjects that would be made worse by my dyslexia, such as language classes, it held me back academically. I didn’t want that to happen to others so, with my graduation project, I decided to do something about it, something that would make language, any language, easier to understand.”
Boer’s solution involved increasing the boldness of letters at their bases, to make them appear weighted, causing readers’ brains to know not to flip them upside down, as can occur with “p” and “d.” He enlarged the openings of various letters, such as “a” and “c,” to make them more distinguishable from one another, and increased the length of “the tail” of other letters, like the “g” and y.” Certain letter were put at a slant so that they would appear to be in italics, like the “j,” a tactic to increase the brain’s ability to distinguish it from the letter “i.” Finally, Boer boldfaced capital letters and punctuation, and provided ample space between letters and words, to allow the brain more time to compute the letters and begin forming them into words and sentences. Finally, after many hours of research, creation and testing, the Dyslexie font was born. The font is now used all over the world, at home and in the workplace, in schools and government departments, by app developers and dyslexia organisations, even Disney studio, Pixar, uses the font to help dyslexic actors read the film scripts.
Addressing the chronic lack of products available in UK schools to teach dyslexic pupils how to read and write, the font is being used in collaboration with Start-Bee to create the world’s first handwriting kit for dyslexic learners.
Combining Dr Boer’s font with the Start-Bee handwriting method takes complete novice handwriters from the basics of making marks through to creating joined up, or cursive writing. In just seven weeks Start-Bee can get pupils writing their names in a legible, neat, cursive script. Dr Boer’s font ensures, that for dyslexic pupils, the letters no longer appear to dance around the page in front of a reader.
It’s changing people’s lives as Shaun’s story proves. Shaun was 11 years old, in his final term of Primary School and yet he struggled to write even his own name. In desperation, he was enrolled on a Start-Bee handwriting holiday club where he asked the Start-Bee tutor how to join up his letters. Swapping handwriting exercises for those created for dyslexic learners, the penny dropped. To Shaun the letters on the page suddenly stopped moving around which enabled him to focus on the correct entry and exit strokes without any disturbance in the handwriting process. After that, Shaun’s progress was rapid. Within weeks he went from making marks to writing words and sentences, neatly on a line. His confidence soared, boosted by being able to, finally, grasp what had for so very long eluded him. Shaun was a changed person, now enabled and better equipped to grasp and master secondary education.
Learners like Shaun learn to write and to read very quickly when they are given the Start-Bee dyslexia handwriting exercises. Using the correct approach and the Dyslexie font ensures that children like Shaun can “fix” on a letter, which a dyslexic brain sees as moving around the page, like a ‘magic eye’ optical illusion.
Dr Boer (pictured above) has worked with Start-Bee in handpicking additional items for the handwriting kit to ensure users access the alphabet, learn to write and indirectly learn to read too. Alongside the Start-Bee handwriting exercises and equipment are specially designed flash cards, beginners reading books, posters and games using the Dyslexie font and provided by Lexie Mouse – design company specialising in creating products for dyslexic learners.
Dr Boer says, “Even in a digital age dyslexic people need to physically write. For most people with dyslexia writing by hand is much faster than typing on a computer. Yet schools are still not sufficiently equipped to teach the basic skills to pupils. I struggled to read and write for the entire time I was in education. It’s still happening to dyslexic children today. By working with companies like Start-Bee we are making education accessible to those people like me who, because of a learning disability, are prevented from realising their true potential, held back by an education system that struggles with dyslexia. This needs to change which is why I am delighted to be working with Start-Bee. Our collaboration will make learning easier and more accessible for dyslexic children across the world.”