Q&A: Which font to help the dyslexic?

Q We are trying to improve accessibility of both online and printed documents that we create. Although I know the general recommendation to use serif faces in printed matter for ‘normal’ readers, a colleague has suggested that we should be using Comic Sans to help those who are dyslexic. Can that be right?

A Your colleague is correct in saying that Comic Sans is widely advocated as a font of choice when preparing documents for adults with dyslexia. However the situation is considerably more complex, and made the more so by a surprising lack of good research. Indeed, on the British Dyslexia Association’s site, its New Technologies Committee admits that they do not know whether there is any sound research evidence on different typefaces, and that “there is no agreement apart from saying it should be sans serif.”

One of the few to have undertaken experiments with fonts designed specifically to help adult dyslexics is Dr Robert Hillier, whose Sylexiad font is available in both serif and sans serif versions, although it is not a cheap option and probably best for specialist publications.

The British Dyslexia Association provides a style guide, which recommends “a plain, evenly spaced sans serif font such as Arial and Comic Sans. Alternatives include Verdana, Tahoma, Century Gothic, Trebuchet.”

You are wise to express concern over the potential use of Comic Sans, which was never intended as a font for general use, nor for those with dyslexia, and among non-specialist fonts there are better.

Updated from the original, which was first published in MacUser volume 26 issue 21, 2010.