How it works
There are numerous ways to describe both dyslexia and visual stress, and having these conditions may mean something different to everyone who struggles with them. For me personally, visual stress represents how the text “looks” to me, while dyslexia affects how I extract information from the text.
Here is an animation which showcases some of the possible symptoms which people with visual stress (also known as Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome or Meares-Irlen Syndrome) may experience when reading:
As the animation indicates, people with visual stress may experience:
- Instability of text (blurry letters, black dots, swirling, flickering, etc.)
- Seeing only one letter crisp and sharp at the time-this results in ”letter-by-letter” reading
- Eye strains
- Fatigue and tiredness after reading for short periods of time
Visual stress as well as its visual effects which make reading uncomfortable are caused primarily by a high, imbalanced contrast between the black colour of the text and the white background. The Dysfont typeface is designed in a way that this contrast between the text and the background is reduced to the level where the text becomes readable for people with visual stress, hence minimising the negative effects.
On the other side, here is what reading may look like for people with dyslexia (I’m using the word “may” here on purpose as the symptoms often differ from dyslexic to dyslexic).
As shown in the animation, dyslexia symptoms could, among others, include:
- Letter switching and letter reversals
- Making up words
- Slow, choppy, awkward reading
- Not understanding the text as a whole
To gain a better insight into dyslexia, we need to understand how the human eye works. When light hits the retina (a light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye), cells called photoreceptors convert the light into electrical signals. These electrical signals then travel from the retina through the optic nerve to the brain. The brain then turns the signals into the images we see. In other words, people perceive the light not the darkness. Consequently, when reading, our brain identifies the white spaces “inside and around” the black letters, not the other way around.
It should also be noted that people with visual stress, often only see one single letter sharp and crisp. Therefore, we are not able to identify the patterns and, thus, have to read letter-by-letter (speed and accuracy are the key factors of reading). Now let’s get back to the brain stuff.
The first thing I, as a dyslexic, notice when reading are the “negative” inner-spaces in letters. If my brain doesn't manage to recognize the letter based on its inner-space, it starts looking for other details. The letter “scanning” is usually where letter switching and letter reversals happen. This is also why dyslexics have such a hard time recognizing certain letters and words-our brain either changes the order of letters in a word (for instance, the word “bin” will become nib) or it wrongly identities problematic letters (in this case, bin will become pin or din). Some of the most problematic letters for people with dyslexia include b, d, p, and q (these letters are effectively the same letter, just flipped and rotated differently in space). Dysfont tackles this issue by using unique inner spaces in different letters.
Next, when I first started learning to read, I didn’t understand why the same letter phonics have different written letter formats, i.e., uppercase and lowercase. Even today, at 33 years of age, and almost 25 years after my dyslexia diagnosis, it still sometimes takes my brain a while to realise that two different letter formats (for example, B; b) can be represented by the same “sound”. Tackling this issue was one of my main motivations behind developing Dysfont. The Dysfont typeface uses specific shapes to make lowercase and uppercase letters easier to recognize for people with dyslexia.
Thanks to these characteristics of the Dysfont typeface, I’m able to read much more text without having to take a break after just a few minutes, my reading is more accurate, it doesn’t hurt as much, and most importantly, I don’t hate it anymore.