OpenDyslexic supposedly helps people with this language difficulty read easier

While dyslexia is a diverse and complex language-related learning disability, it can prove a key challenge to reading and writing.  The same is true in the digital world: people with dyslexia can take longer to process -- or be unable to process -- text that the rest of us would be able to easily mentally parse.  Approximately 1 out of every 10 individuals suffers from some form of dyslexia, according to the International Dyslexia Association.

I. Helping Dyslexia Victims With an Affordable Font

The plight of dyslexic individuals served as inspiration to Abelardo Gonzalez, a New Hampshire-based mobile app designer, who devised a clever font to help dyslexics read digital text easier.

The font, dubbed "OpenDyslexic", employs a trick in which the bottoms of characters are weighted.  Curiously some dyslexic individuals visual processing cortexes rotate images that look slender, making characters appear backwards or upside down.  By making the bottom look "heavier" the font reportedly reduces this kind of visual "bug" in the brains of people with this disability.

Mr. Gonzalez wasn't the first to use this trick, he explained, but he was the first font designer to make an affordable version.  He comments in a BBC News interview, "I had seen similar fonts, but at the time they were completely unaffordable and so impractical as far as costs go.  I figured there's other people who would like the same thing but had the same issues, and so I thought I'd make an open source one that everyone could contribute to and help out with."


"The response has been great: I've had people emailing saying this is the first time they could read text without it looking wiggly or has helped other symptoms of dyslexia."

II. Spreading Across the App Space

The app he made -- openWeb -- is free for iPhone and iPad users and modifies the Safari browser to use OpenDyslexic as the enforced font, making most pages' text load with the font-face.

Android owners and owners of jailbroken devices have downloaded the font and used it system-wide on their devices, which allows any app that uses the system's default font for text to display in the special font-face.

Fellow app developers have also taken note.  The latest to add support is the iOS app Instapaper, a popular app that saves webpages for offline reading.

OpenDyslexic apps

openWeb and Instapaper both use the OpenDyslexic font.

Reportedly many special education teachers in the U.S. and abroad have started using the font to try to help their students read easier.  The Kildonan School -- an institute that specializes in dyslexic children -- is interested in conducting a more comprehensive trial to see how broad the improvement is and what types of dyslexia are countered by the font.

Sony Corp. (TYO:6758) and, Inc. (AMZN) have both contacted Mr. Gonzalez about potentially using the font in their e-readers.  Google Inc. (GOOG) is also looking to add the font to its web fonts directory to allow web developers to use it.

III. Legal Challenges

Fonts are in a gray area of the law -- in some areas (like the U.S.) they are generally exempted from copyright law -- but there are some exceptions/technicalities.  That's a key reason why Mr. Gonzalez offers his font for free.

He relates that he was contacted by font designer Christian Boer (who sells an alternative font called dyslexie for $69 USD per "single-use" license) to "cease and desist" early during his process.

At the time he was charging a nominal fee and did reuse some bitstream-vera-sans characters as the basis for his font.  Bitstream-vera-sans' license explicitly allows derivative fonts to be sold (free of fee to the bitstream font creators), however, Mr. Boer was claiming that the offense occurred due to the fact that Mr. Gonzalez had changed the (free) font in a similar way as he had.  By all appearances the real issue was that Mr. Gonzalez was offering it for far cheaper than Mr. Boer.

So Mr. Gonzalez went a step further and simply made the font free.  He also modified the characters to be more unique (and less-close to Bitstream-vera-sans).  Mr. Boer has not filed any lawsuits against Mr. Gonzalez yet, but he's certainly not happy about the new state of affairs -- "free".

Indeed, legal challenges loom for the free font, as it puts an end to a lucrative -- but perhaps exploitive -- digital market.  Mr. Gonzalez vows to continue with the project, though, writing, "Why did I continue working on it? The great positive feedback from people who liked my work. And I’m sure my work is why he’s now added an italic version to Dyslexie (see, I did have a positive impact on his life)."

"I’m still working on [OpenDyslexic] after a year, and can only afford to work on it during whatever free time I can afford to schedule, which isn’t much. I have, at any given point, 3 jobs I’m working on."

For paid fonts Mr. Gonzalez now recommends one of Mr. Boer's rivals -- Gill-Dyslexic -- which is more reasonable at $20 USD per license.  Gill-Dyslexic has a monospace font -- perfect for dyslexic-friendly Ascii art or dyslexic-friendly code IDEs.

Sources: OpenDyslexic, Instapaper, BBC News

“Then they pop up and say ‘Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!' Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that.” -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng referencing patent trolls

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