Dyslexia friendly fonts: Are they any good?

This topic regularly pops up, and it was one of the most popular questions I got: Are fonts for dyslexia any good? Should we use Comic Sans or Open Dyslexic from now on in our designs? In my conversation with type designer Eleni Beveratou, we get to the bottom of things and bust some myths.

TL;DR: So-called dyslexia friendly fonts perform worse than other typefaces, while conveying an either broken or playful aesthetic that might not fit to your project. As a rule of thumb, prefer more common typefaces with a looser spacing, open shapes, and distinct letters.

What are dyslexia friendly fonts?

It is estimated that 1 out of 10 people have dyslexia, and 70 to 80% of people with poor reading skills, are likely dyslexic (source). So this is a huge topic. Dyslexia itself is not a disability, it is a learning disorder, affecting either reading or writing to different degrees. I myself have a mild form of dyslexia, which you can spot in my regular typos 😉, that especially occur when I’m typing.

There are plenty of typefaces out there that claim to be helpful for people with dyslexia. To give you a quick overview, I collected some of the most popular ones and put them in two groups:

1. The broken look

Dyslexie started the trend with this quite broken looking design, followed by a quite similar free font called Open Dyslexic. These typefaces contradicting almost everything we know about harmonious type design. And that is their point. The claim that mirrored letter shapes of b, d, p, q are most problematic, and so they make them very distinct, add a certain bottom-heaviness to all letters. They also add more space, so the text tend to be looser.

Open Dyslexic: The main argument of these kinds of typefaces is the focus on bottom heaviness, very differentiated letter shapes and the loose spacing. This creates a broken look, leaving a noisy and uneven impression.
Typefaces like Open Dyslexic come with a “broken” aesthetic

This all results in this grungy look. And this is where I have a problem. It seems to demand that this aesthetic is good for dyslexic readers. But it can be off-putting to everyone else.

2. The Comic Sans look

On the other hand, we have typefaces like Lexie Readable and first and foremost Comic Sans, which is often claimed to be more accessible for people with dyslexic traits.

“Research has shown that it [Comic Sans] reduces cognitive load and visual processing issues, which are common challenges for people with dyslexia.”

Comic Sans: The Dyslexia-Friendly Font, Dyslexichelp, March 2024

This is based on the looser spacing, the differentiated letter shapes. The well-made campaign from Dyslexia Scotland explains this in detail, by emphasizing Comic Sans’ features. But it also could be the friendly, playful aesthetics of the typeface that take the seriousness out of text.

Shantell Sans The main argument of these kinds of typefaces, including Comic Sans, are the differentiated letter shapes and the loose spacing. They feel less formal, and friendlier, which also could be inappropriate for your specific topic.
Playful Shantell Sans is a modern version of Comic Sans

Shantell Sans, a handwritten style typeface by the artist Shatell Martin (read my font review) also follows that idea, but it is way better executed than its source of inspiration. But then again, this acetic might not always fit to your project. So what should you do?

Be skeptical

In our conversation, type designer Eleni Beveratout says she is always skeptical about typefaces that claim to “save the planet”. She says we want to do the right thing, and include as many people as possible. Then we tend to pick fonts that seem to be “approved” as suited for dyslexic people.

However, the research often compares a typeface with Arial, which is not hard to beat in terms of accessibility. Mostly because Arial’s spacing is horrible, and the letter shapes are quite closed (more on this in the complete talk with Eleni).

Dyslexia friendly font perform poorly

The Readability Group, conducted a survey with 2022 participants, of which 35% claimed to have dyslexic traits (from mild to strong).

This bar chart compares typeface rating amongst those with strong or no dyslexic traits. Whilst the so-called dyslexia friendly fonts fare marginally better here, the statistics certainly do not back up their claims. Once more, this survey confirms findings by scientific qualitative studies that these type of fonts have very little impact on the reading proficiency of a dyslexic person. In addition, they perform very poorly among those with no dyslexic traits.
Even amongst peoply with strong dyslexia, Open Dyslexic and co perform worst.

They found out that the typefaces Open Dyslexic, Dyslexie and Comic Sans MS were more popular for people that classified themselves with having strong dyslexia, compared to people with no dyslexia. However, these typefaces still were the least popular ones, even for dyslexic people, and especially for people with no dyslexia.

There are better typefaces out there

The survey also shows that there are much better typefaces out there that suit people with dysexia. The top were SF Pro, BBC Reith Sans, Verdana and Segue UI. But there are a lot of different things to consider, and they all interplay. The Mirrored letter shapes of b, d, p, q might not be as crucial (SF Pro has them, but it performs best here).

SF Pro does not share most of the relevant features, and still performs best. Maybe because of familiarity?

What really matters

More relevant are these things:

  1. Good spacing: so that letters are not cramped
  2. Open shapes: open c, e, and a
  3. Differentiation between l or I, O or 0

Of course, so-called dyslexia friendly fonts can be helpful for some people on an individual basis. People are diverse in their preferences, and one solution can never satisfy all. But as a rule of thumb, don’t choose them over other legible typefaces, that also performed better by people without dyslexia.

This is why I recommend picking a more common looking typeface that works for the mood of your project and continue from there. Because if the dyslexia fonts repel more people, it works against the goals of accessibility. To make it better for everyone. And isn’t that what we want?

If you want to learn more about this, check out my complete talk with Eleni Beveratou. Here is also a good summary by the A11Y Project about the myth of dyslexic fonts.

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  1. Given San Francisco’s (and Roboto’s) results, Inter should do very well.

    And with disambiguation enabled (ss02), it should be even better.

    But it’s easy to say that without real tests…

  2. Sadly I am missing Atkinson Hyperlegible and ABeeZee in the survey – maybe they’re new. Otherwise I find the result of a comparison of ugly freefonts with widely used professional fonts quite predictable. But I think the warning about well-intentioned fonts is a good one.

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