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Monday, October 8, 2012

NH man creates fonts for dyslexics

David Brooks

If you are reading this in print, the words appear in a font called Olympian. If you’re reading online, they appear as whatever font chosen by your computer/tablet/smartphone.

If you are dyslexic, however, reading either one might not be all that simple. ...

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If you are reading this in print, the words appear in a font called Olympian. If you’re reading online, they appear as whatever font chosen by your computer/tablet/smartphone.

If you are dyslexic, however, reading either one might not be all that simple.

New Hampshire software developer Abelardo Gonzalez thinks you might be helped by using a font he has created, called OpenDyslexic.

Gonzalez isn’t dyslexic, has no experience developing fonts and doesn’t have access to software that can create fonts, but the font has taken on a life of its own.

Instapaper, a web/mobile app that lets you easily “clip” online material to read later, has adopted it as an option for its users, and OpenDyslexic also been
incorporated into a word processer and an ebook reader, drawing attention from the BBC among others.

“I’ve been swamped,” said Gonzalez, a software fan who works for Blue Cross Blue Shield in Massachusetts but still lives in Winchester, south of Keene. “I’ve gotten very little sleep since BBC put the article up.”

Gonzalez has lost sleep and hasn’t made any money, because he released the work as open source. This is a labor of love, or at least of fascination.

So what does a dyslexia-battling font look like?

“The letters have heavy bottoms, which creates a sort of gravity to each letter, keeps your brain from trying to translate it to different directions – and if your brains does it, you can still recognize them,” said Gonzalez in a recent phone interview. “It has unique letters, so it’s harder to confuse them.”

He also made bigger kerning, or spaces between characters, and bolder punctuation as a visual guide.

In this, Gonzalez was following research published in 2010 as a masters thesis from the University of Twente in the Netherlands.

The idea of how much font design can reduce the kind of reading errors that bedevil dyslexics is far from settled, but the whole idea piqued Gonzalez’ interest.

“I just saw the study on the Internet and said, ‘Oh wow, this is great,’” he said.

In other words, it seemed like a cool thing to do. For a geek, in the best sense of the word, no more incentive is needed.

Gonzalez’ wife, Megan helped spur him on.

“She was like, ‘This is a great idea, you should continue it,’” he said.

Gonzalez was annoyed by the cost of buying the font (fonts can be quite expensive).

“I flippantly said there should be an open-source version of this somewhere, and friends said well why don’t you make your own?” he recalled.

Easier said than done, as it turned out.

“I was doing everything pretty cheap. I don’t have any resources,” Gonzalez said.

So he found some applications to create fonts and downloaded the demo versions. He worked with them, then “I had to find somewhere with the full version, email files to them, so they could compile them,” he said.

By last December, he posted a beta version, using feedback from “several friends who are dyslexic,” and spent some time tweaking it.

Plenty of computer issues arose, such as the way different operating systems handle automatic “smoothing” of fonts differently – Windows, as any Linux fan would have predicted, had the most problems. Now he’s pondering requests for more versions.

“I’ve gotten requests for Greek letters, and Cyrillic,” he said, admitting that this may be beyond him.

So is this the start of a new career? The lack of resulting income means no, at least so far, but he is enjoying the fame, or at least some of it.

“People email me and say, by the way, this looks ugly,” he noted. “I tell them it was created for a specific purpose, a specific audience … if you don’t need it, that’s good for you.”

To see or download the font, visit dyslexicfonts.com

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Follow Brooks’ blog on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).