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How to use fonts to help students with dyslexia

How to use fonts to help students with dyslexia

3 min read
  • The science of learning

Dyslexia is a very common learning disorder, with 1 in every 6 adults having the reading level of an 11-year-old. Many famous people suffer from this reading difficulty, such as Muhammad Ali and Jamie Oliver.

Students with dyslexia often fall behind in their schoolwork because they take longer to process text. Whilst the research in this area is lacking, there are researchers and teachers who believe that changing fonts can have a drastic positive influence on the reading development of students with dyslexia.

So, how can we make reading more accessible for those with dyslexia?

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that causes difficulties in reading. It affects the areas of the brain that are involved in language processing, leading to problems with identifying speech sounds and relating letters and words. Statistics outline that 10% of the UK population is dyslexic.

Beyond academics, dyslexia can also have a social impact. Students with dyslexia often have difficulties finding the words they need to express themselves. Their ability to communicate with their peers, teachers, and even family members is hindered, and this can lead to them being excluded from many conversations. Whilst those of us not experiencing this disorder may never understand the frustration and difficulties that those with dyslexia face, we must continue to find ways to support them.

What does the research say?

Research suggests that fonts do make a difference in reading performance for those with dyslexia. A sample of 48 participants read 12 texts with 12 different fonts. The researchers found that using sans serifmonospaced, and roman font styles significantly improved the reading performance of those with dyslexia, when compared to serifproportional, and italic font styles.

These findings demonstrate that text can be made more accessible for those with reading difficulties by making fairly easy tweaks. Two specific fonts that were highlighted because of their effect on reading performance and participant preference, were Helvetica and Arial. These are both sans serif fonts and should be considered good fonts for dyslexia. Furthermore, teachers should avoid using Italic fonts as they have been shown to decrease reading performance.

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Supporting students with dyslexia  

At some point during a student’s school life, they will face a reading challenge. Whilst many overcome this, for some it becomes an ongoing struggle. Subsequently, students with dyslexia can sometimes feel out of place and, without the appropriate support, can be left feeling as though they are simply “not as smart” as their peers.

It is crucial for teachers to help these students understand that their reading difficulties are not a reflection of their intelligence. Many people who have dyslexia develop strategies that make it easier for them and they are able to thrive academically as a result.

Struggling students will need more attention and support from teachers. Teachers should seek out those who require further help and put specific strategies into place to help them. There are many ways that students can overcome their reading difficulties, from personalised programs to extra classes, however, an easy way for teachers to help them in the classroom is by using dyslexia-friendly fonts.  This quick and easy change can make reading more accessible for those who struggle.

Final thoughts

It is important to use fonts that are helpful for those with dyslexia and that can make reading more accessible. However, the use of specialised dyslexia fonts is not recommended or supported by any research. Instead teachers should try to use texts that are in sans serif font styles, specifically Helvetica or Arial. The difficulties that those with dyslexia face significantly affect their academic progress and it is our duty as educators to help them as best we can. More research is needed in this area so that further progress can be made in making reading more accessible for all those who struggle.

This blog is a follow up to our previous one: Do Fonts Make A Difference in Learning? Click the link if you want to learn about how changing fonts can encourage your students to engage with the material more deeply…