Research Research into Web Accessibility for Dyslexics and Dyslexia-focused fonts such as OpenDyslexia

By Robert James Gabriel

There are few published papers about usability testing with dyslexia focused fonts, but there is a
considerable collection of knowledge on dyslexia as well as many suggestions for authoring dyslexia
friendly interfaces.Existing accessibility guidelines for dyslexic and non-dyslexic users suggest
that dyslexic-accessible practices may redress difficulties encountered by all Internet users.This
paper reviews two existing papers about dyslexia focused fonts (OpenDyslexia font) and
accessibility.It will examine the font itself, as well as how the use of the font affects the visual
perception, readability, and comprehension of the website and text with general web
accessibility.The report is interested in the effects the font has, if any, for people with
dyslexia, in comparison with those of Comic Sans or Times New Roman, and on improving human-
computer interactions.

Typography

There are few published papers about usability testing with dyslexia focused fonts, but there is a
considerable collection of knowledge on dyslexia as well as many suggestions for authoring dyslexia
friendly interfaces.Existing accessibility guidelines for dyslexic and non-dyslexic users suggest
that dyslexic-accessible practices may redress difficulties encountered by all Internet users.This
paper reviews two existing papers about dyslexia focused fonts (OpenDyslexia font) and
accessibility.It will examine the font itself, as well as how the use of the font affects the visual
perception, readability, and comprehension of the website and text with general web
accessibility.The report is interested in the effects the font has, if any, for people with
dyslexia, in comparison with those of Comic Sans or Times New Roman, and on improving human-
computer interactions.

It is necessary to be familiar with the particulars of typography in order to understand the
importance of font use in web accessibility.Typography is the technique of arranging text for print
or on screens for aesthetics and readability.It involves the use of different font types, faces,
sizes and layout restrictions such as line height, column width and spacing between characters and
colors.Typography has been around for thousands of years, from stone tablets right through history
up to the GUI (graphical user interface).In the context of human-computer interaction, typography
has critical importance in some applications.The primary purpose of a significant proportion of
websites and web applications (web apps) is to display/render textual content.Included in this are
instructions, labels, and navigation for the web app which can be presented in text (web icons or
symbols are in fact a font), and must be readable for users to have fruitful and efficient
interactions with the application.

Key Typography Terms

Font face describes the overall letter form, for example, Comic Sans or Times New Roman.Font faces
may have serifs (a slight projection finishing off a stroke of a letter in certain typefaces such as
Times New Roman) or may be sans serif (Don’t use serifs which are small lines at the tips of
characters such as in Comic Sans). Fonts may be display fonts, designed for headlines, or text
fonts, designed for large bodies of smaller text. When measuring font size, there are two key areas
to focus on: The body size: Measures the full height of letters, from the bottom of the descenders
(the part of the character that lies below the baseline) to the top of the ascenders (the part of
the character that lies above the baseline) and three additional gutter spaces above and below .
X-Height: The top of the main body height of lowercase letters excluding the spacing or ascenders or
descenders.X-Height is a huge factor in typeface regarding readability. The following graphic
summarizes the key parts:

What is OpenDyslexia

OpenDyslexia is a free font face designed to mitigate some of the common reading errors caused by
dyslexia.It was made with the goal of helping with some of the symptoms of dyslexia.The font is
based on the concept that the letters have heavily weighted bottoms to indicate direction.This aids
in recognizing the correct letter and which part of the letter is down as it helps your brain from
rotating them.Consistently weighted bottoms can also contribute to reinforcing the line of text. The
unique shape of each letter in the OpenDyslexia font can help prevent confusion through flipping and
swapping as the font is unlike that of other fonts the brain is has seen before. As you can see
below.

History of OpenDyslexic

History of OpenDyslexic

The History of OpenDyslexia’s Development

The font was created by a dyslexic and software developer Abelardo Gonzalez, who released it under
an open-source license.The design for the font is based on that of DejaVu Sans, also open-source.
Like many dyslexia-intervention font-faces, most notably Dyslexia or even DejaVu Sans, OpenDyslexia
furthers the research of Dyslexia.It is more of a reading aid, but it is to be noted that this is
not a cure for dyslexia even though it is very popular.The typeface includes regular, bold, italic,
bold-italic, and monospaced font styles.In 2012, Gonzalez explained his motivation to the BBC: “I
had seen similar fonts, but at the time they were completely unaffordable and so impractical as far
as costs go.

The Theory on OpenDyslexia

The OpenDyslexia font uses heavy weighted bottoms to the font, this, in theory, will figure out fast
which part of the letter is down.This helps in spotting the correct letter and sometimes contributes
to keeping the users brain from rotating them around.Consistently weighted bottoms can also
contribute to reinforcing the line of text.The unique shapes of each letter can help prevent
confusion through flipping and swapping.

Pre-existing Studies on OpenDyslexia

There are many reports of the positive impacts of using OpenDyslexia in both traditional media and
the within online forms and schools.Currently, as of 7 February 2016, there is no research paper or
text-based paper on the effect of the OpenDyslexia that shows OpenDyslexia to be effective with
English readers with dyslexia. One study by Boyarski in 1998 examined the varying features of legacy
fonts and modern typefaces designed for digital displays.This study wasn’t planned to determine
which fonts were better than others regarding readability.It did offer a scientific way to discern
which features of new typefaces affect readability.This scientific method has been used by other
researchers in their investigations of the links between typography and readability for dyslexics.
Currently, two major studies have investigated the effect of specialized fonts with students with
dyslexia.One paper by Rello and Baeza-Yates written in 2013 titled Good Fonts for Dyslexia, examined
the effects of fonts, namely OpenDyslexia, Arial, Times New Roman and Comic Sans on the reading time
and eye fixation (i)e.squinting and returning to particular points on a page to double check) of a
group of dyslexic subjects from the ages of 12–59.[2] They found that OpenDyslexia did not hugely
improve reading time nor reduce eye fixation when reading and processing text.

Fonts for Dyslexia — Rello and Baeza-Yates’ Paper

In the paper co-authored by Rello, Rello noted that dyslexia is a visual reading disability.It is
characterized by having difficulties with fluent word recognition and commonly having poor
spelling.Also, in the paper it is estimated to affect 10% of the population in the US has
dyselxia.During her research for the paper, Rello looked into how different algorithms could be used
to replace words with more common synonyms that are hard or confusing for dyslexics.Rello also
investigated the possibility of using eye tracking and facial expression analysis to discover
problem areas on the internet for dyslexics and to test the impact of key interface design elements
on sample groups of people with dyslexia.The list of variables stated in Rello’s experiments was
very complete: paragraph spacing, character spacing, line spacing, font size, type, column width,
gray scales color pairs. A summarized version of Rello’s findings is presented in an upcoming paper
in which Rello details visual details that make reading online much easier for dyslexics, for
example, Rello learned that the larger the font size, the better, up to a point.“’14 pt.` seemed to
be the optimal setting” Rello stated.Another significant highlight from the paper was font types;
Rello concluded that italics tended to have an enormous negative impact.Rello noticed that sans
serif, monospaced and Roman font styles significantly improved the reading performance of those with
dyslexia. Rello stated in the report, that the use of the fonts Helvetica, OpenDyslexia ,Courier and
Computer Modern Unicode are excellent typefaces to make sure your website is dyslexia- friendly,
because they are sans serif and their simple, clean design is very easy for the dyslexic eye to
process, as it doesn’t have the curves at the end of the tips of the font to cause confusion of
processing the text on a webpage. Despite the fact that there were already dozens of available fonts
claiming to be dyslexia- friendly, none of them had the backing of scientific proof.Rello’s study
was one of the first times that HCI techniques were used to investigate the effects of key aspects
of type design on readability for dyslexics, thus providing the basis for designing a font which
could potentially make the internet a dyslexia-friendly space.

Special Fonts for Dyslexia — RenskeDe Leeuws

In the second paper, masters student Renske de Leeuw (2010) compared Arial with the font Dyslexie
(Dyslexie is a typeface/font designed to mitigate some of the issues that dyslexics experience when
reading.It was developed by Dutch graphic designer Christian Boer while in college to help combat
her own dyslexia.Rello took 21 Dutch students with dyslexia as her sample group, gave them texts to
read in both fonts and monitored the differences in reading speed and accuracy the fonts produced.
Rello found that Dyslexie did not lead to quicker reading, however it did help some students make
less dyslexia-related errors, another inserting aspect was from the questionnaires.Renske found that
users wouldn’t use the font, because other people, who would have to read their work, would not like
the font.This gives the impression that dyslectics are adapting to others, instead of ask for
understanding of the use of an adapted font, so that a dyslectic can cope with his/her handicap
.Overall the dyslectics read fewer errors while reading the words printed in the font “Dyslexie”.

Results of the Papers

While there is currently a lack of definite evidence that a dyslexia-friendly font can make a
difference to reading rate and accuracy for students with dyslexia, the results of the papers do
suggest that these fonts might improve accuracy for dyslexic students if not reading times: further
research is needed to determine whether this is actually the case.However, it is clear that the
variable design elements of fonts impact dyslexic students in some way, therefore the creation of an
effective dyslexia-friendly font should be possible, if there were enough research to indicate which
elements have negative or positive effects.

The Effect of Optimal colors on Readability

Another important area in web accessibility is color.This is dealt with in the research report by
the W3C communities (Web developers who make the W3C specifications). In the study, they analyze how
the aspects of text customization, text and background colors can improve readability for people
with dyslexia, through different color mixes and brightness levels.In previous studies, it came to
light that particular text and background color combinations can be beneficial for reading on the
screen for those with dyslexia. Several text customization suggestions agree that users with
dyslexia prefer lower brightness color differences between the text and the background compared to
the average user (British Dyslexia Association, 2012).It must be noted that no studies have been
carried out upon the relationship between this preference and the minimum color luminosity ratio
which the W3C suggested would be suitable for dyslexic users.

W3C Study

In the study taken by the W3C, they got 200 people and showed them several pieces of text with
different color combinations and asked them which they preferred to read along with reading
time.They then tested previous recommendations and compared them with the W3C algorithm (The W3C
algorithm suggests avoidance of brightness differences less than 125 and color differences less than
500).The user performance and preferences from the tests, among the different color values across
people with and without dyslexia are shown in the chart below.

In the report, the areas of focus were broken down as follows

In the report, the areas of focus were broken down as follows

In the report, the areas of focus were broken down as follows:

The performance, measured in reading time Preferences, represented by the percentage of participants
who chose certain colors

Eye movement (Performance)

Shorter fixations are preferred to longer ones, as according to other studies, readers pause longer
at points where processing loads are larger.In their results, it was evident the greatest difference
among groups is on the black and white pair, as seen in the chart.Most of the users tested who
didn’t have dyslexia (32.5%) preferred a color mixture and only 13.5% of people with dyslexia choose
black text on white background in terms of text.

Accessibility needs and Personal Preferences and Testing

The testing approach is designed so that accessibility needs and personal preferences can be studied
separately, rather than being mixed up as they frequently are in recommendations regarding colors
and readability. The tests were composed of two parts: Set of texts to be read with the use of the
eye-tracking to study the reading performance. A survey to collect the user’s preferences.

Shorter fixations are preferred to longer ones, as according to other studies, readers pause longer
at points where processing loads are larger.In their results, it was evident the greatest difference
among groups is on the black and white pair, as seen in the chart.Most of the users tested who
didn’t have dyslexia (32.5%) preferred a color mixture and only 13.5% of people with dyslexia choose
black text on white background in terms of text. The benefit of this separation is that they could
see whether there was a difference in reading speed and accuracy before and after color
customisation, which in turn allowed them to determine trends in color choice. It must also be noted
that during these experiments, the color pairs were displayed randomly rather than in order of
brightest to darkest or vice versa, because that would have allowed the subjects’ eyes to adjust to
each setting and it they would not have been able to make a judgment as to which colors are most
advantageous to their reading.

Possible problems with the tests include:

The texts used are too small to draw firm conclusions. The texts were alone on the screen.Thus, the
researchers couldn’t predict the effect of color differences in other reading contexts such as web
browsing, where there are multiple color schemes on the page.

Results of Study

The outcome of the results from the paper (see figure 1) did not match the WC3 algorithm.Brown and
Dark presented high fixation for both groups; that was second and third highest for people without
and with dyslexia.These colors were also hardly selected by the users, with only 4.55% without
dyslexia and 0.99% of the users with dyslexia. However, one surprising outcome of the study was that
the pairing of dark brown and light green, which is very similar to the brown and dark green pair in
terms of the color hue but different in terms of brightness and color contrast, presented the lowest
and second lowest fixations duration for people with dyslexia and without dyslexia. The results
suggest that text customization preferences need to be complemented by measured data from actual
reading performance since there is no correlation observed between the reading performance and the
personal choices of users with dyslexia. In the research it was also reported that the use of colors
should be taken into consideration by UX developers.It was even noted that if the users with
dyslexia seem to be reading more quickly using lower color contrasts than the control group of users
these are not below the W3C algorithm, which is to avoid brightness differences less than 125 and
color differences less than 500.

My Research

Shorter fixations are preferred to longer ones, as according to other studies, readers pause longer
at points where processing loads are larger.In their results, it was evident the greatest difference
among groups is on the black and white pair, as seen in the chart.Most of the users tested who
didn’t have dyslexia (32.5%) preferred a color mixture and only 13.5% of people with dyslexia choose
black text on white background in terms of text. In my own research, I followed the methods used in
the other papers, in order to discover if my results might back up their findings. I developed a
survey, which consisted of 12 questions ranging from details such as age to the color combinations
they preferred to use.I also showed them samples of Ariel and Comic Sans alongside samples of
OpenDyslexia and asked them to pick the one they preferred, similar to the method from Renske De
Leeuw’s paper. In total, I got 43 people to take the survey by posting the link on Reddit sub
categories for both dyslexia and web design.I allowed for a section for personal comments so that I
could get a better understanding of what the user thought of the fonts.One user wrote “ I don’t like
using OpenDyslexia all the time because I feel like It’s not very discreet, using it would be
immediately obvious to everyone that I was ‘different.` For the most part, the results followed the
same patterns as that of the papers cited, with the exception of the W3C study, where the results
were mixed, as dyslexia is different from person to person.The people who were surveyed did not
stick to the standard 12px body but preferred the 14px body size which was inline with the
recommendation of that from Rellos paper.

Conclusion

The results of the existing research and the research of this paper into dyslexic focused fonts in
terms of web accessibility for dyslexics can be put into effect by developers to improve the
readability of their applications in both software, website or web application for those with
dyslexia.

Web accessibility recommendations

Some recommendations from the above mentioned papers include:

Choose a common font with recognizable letter forms for large bodies of text, such the OpenDyslexia
font, comic sans or Arial. Include the option for different fonts Allow the user to choose between
color combinations Set the body text size to least 14px, instead of the existing 12px. Present
blocks of texts in columns; don’t let text span the entire length of the screen on a widescreen
display, allowing for better use of whitespace. Choose text and background colors with a high
luminance contrast, or better yet allow the user to select the combination. Use lower case
letters.Avoid the use of capital letters.Using all capital letters make it harder to read for people
with dyslexia. Double spacing after periods. Avoid pure black text on a pure white background (Many
dyslexic users can be sensitive to the brightness the high contrast colors cause, as stated in the
W3C report as well. Avoid Serif fonts ( A sans-serif font would allow dyslexic users to see the
shapes of letters more clearly.This is because of the lack of hooks increases the spacing between
letters and makes them more distinguishable.

As is evident from the suggestions, there are multiple possible avenues for future studies on
typography for dyslexic users, and in fact, such research is desperately needed in order to create a
web which is universally accessible. Despite the fact that the research papers cited and lack of
existing research do not offer concrete evidence of a correlation between readability for dyslexic
users and the use of dyslexia-focused fonts, there are so many people suffering from dyslexia and
even more having trouble reading on the web, that web designers and developers should feel obliged
to make their websites accessible to everyone by fixing bad practices or at least considering the
above mentioned suggestions.Aside from developing more user friendly fonts, true web accessibility
entails always providing users with several options so that they can customize the website to suit
their needs. This report should offer an insight into the way dyslexic users experience the web and
demonstrate how dyslexic focus fonts try to fix some of their problems and improve web accessibility
in general.

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