Font Designed To Help Dyslexic Individuals Gets Legal Threat, Becomes More Open In Response

from the dyslexics-unite dept

Recently, we highlighted the tremendous difficulty that visually impaired people have encountered when it comes to intellectual property. The White House had initially endorsed, then stalled, an international effort to expand fair use rights to help visually impaired individuals get greater access to written works. We also highlighted how DRM was a threat to the visually impaired. However, it is not just large interests making life difficult for this class of readers. 

Thanks to TechnoMage, we learn that New Hampshire-based mobile app designer Abelardo Gonzalez had created a font that is easier for those with dyslexia to read books and websites, but it ended up facing some legal threats from a competing font designer. First off, we have a little background on the 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.

Along with creating this font, Abelardo had released an app for iPhone and Android devices that allows those device owners to override the default font wherever it is used and replace it with this font. Other app developers had also started using it as an alternative font. Even e-reader makers Sony and Amazon have taken interest. Unfortunately, this kind of greater access is not something to celebrate if you are trying to market a more expensive font to the same demographic.

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.

In response to this threat, Abelardo released the font for free made some modifications to the font, thus allowing greater access to the public, Abelardo had already released the font for free and was not planning on backing down, which was probably the exact opposite of the reaction Boer wanted. The fact that Boer felt threatened enough by a cheaper free font shows just how weak his position is. Abelardo even admits that Boer's font is better and has become even better as a result of having more competition in the market. So why does Boer feel the need to threaten the competition? Shouldn't the fact that he can provide a better alternative be enough incentive for people to seek him out? Or perhaps, if people and companies are turning to cheaper or free alternatives, maybe it's a sign that he might be charging too much?

As someone with two dyslexic brothers, I am glad that there are people out there trying to make the world of text easier on them. Had my mother had access to a font like Abelardo's or Boer's, she probably would have had an easier time teaching them throughout school. Perhaps if the school systems that had abandoned my brothers had access to one of these fonts, they probably would have had an easier time teaching them and many others.

As we move into a more electronic world in which the ability to switch out fonts and make other changes to support the visually impaired becomes more accessible, we can provide a better solution to those who need the additional help. Unfortunately, if more people like Boer and legacy publishers get their way, such tools will be locked away behind expensive paywalls, decreasing the value and accessibility to those who truly need them.

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Font Designed To Help Dyslexic Individuals Gets Legal Threat, Becomes More Open In Response”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
gorehound (profile) says:

I am very glad to read that this Font was released for Free.It is a real shame and very disgusting to use the Disabled in these stupid Copyright/Patent Issues.
The Disabled need our help not the typical response of the Ultra-Greedy low life type Capitalist.
I do support the system of Capitalism and have no issue with that system when it is run fairly.
I do have big issues with those who allow greed and low life practice which only creates what I label as the “Unfair Capitalist”.
I, on the other hand always help out others and do this in my Freelance Work with Audio/Video/Graphics.I keep my pricing down, am happy making a little, and never overcharge or raise my Rates.
By the way I charge no more than $30 per hour for whatever I do.And I have seen similar Work being Billed at $100 per hour.I go down to around $20 – $25 rate when they want multiple hours.
In the case of a disabled person I would do it for $ZERO to $15 per hour.I would not turn away a disabled person ever.

Abelardo Gonzalez (profile) says:

Correction request from the creator of OpenDyslexic

Thank you for writing the article, however, I need to point out a necessary corrections: the OpenDyslexic typeface has always been free, and has always been open source.

It’s purpose is to help people, not generate a profit. I have accepted donations, but that’s only really covered the software I used and some lunches. Please correct this. And please contact me if you want more details.

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

About 8 years ago I had an interview with a fellow named Joe who had a company that made a nifty little device: it would alert parents when their child’s bus arrival was imminent, also providing current distance. (I forget Joe’s last name and the company name. I’m sure I have it written down somewhere. Doesn’t matter.)

It was based on a short-range radio technology in an unlicensed band, required an installation in the bus, and each client needed to buy a receiver. If you had two children on different busses, you’d need to buy one of his dual receivers.

(At the time it was a pretty good idea, though by now about 95% of you have come up with more modern alternate solutions. There’s probably an app for that. 🙂

Meantime, and to the point, during the interview Joe bragged that his was the only one on the market; any time another company tried to compete, he’d managed to find some way to crush them or otherwise drive them out of the business. Even at the time I thought that was completely in violation of the spirit of proper capitalism. You’re supposed to compete on merit, or price, or advertising, or… well, anything. The point is that you’re supposed to compete. Of course, not being completely stupid, I STFU and figured, if I end up working here, maybe I can influence him later. I would have taken the job; I needed to feed my family. Idealism takes second place.

I didn’t get the chance; I blew the second interview because I couldn’t sleep the night before. (Or maybe I wouldn’t have made it anyway.) The job went to one of the other two finalists.

But I think back with a certain amount of grim satisfaction knowing that, one way or another, his expensive, limited product, for all his protectionist practices, has become irrelevant in the face of technological advances. Either he learned to adapt or, more likely, had to find another business to monopolize.

(Hah! I think this is it. My interview was in Reading, PA.)

Anonymous Coward says:


Would you campaign for TechDirt to NOT USE Trebuchet as it’s font for articles ?

I mean… look at the state of that font, look at the “g”.
It can hardly be described as an easily readable font.
Looks nice, but not exactly easy on the eyes when reading it a lot.

Verdana would be better.

Also making the font size 100% in the stylesheet would help.

change actual font size to 12 rather than OFF PIXEL, 12.9667

Adding a “dyslexic font” to the stylesheet would be a necessity, add a button to change font.

Anyway… Must go now, have to piss in the wind elsewhere : )

Charade says:

I tried both of the fonts. Yes, Mr Boer’s “Dyslexie” is prettier, looks more polished… I hope so, with 70$ each license!

Mr Abelardo’s “Open Dyslexic” works as well as “Dyslexie” for my students, for free. But there are some more reasons I chose to install this one, besides the money I would save.

The first and most important is the attitude Mr Abelardo has compared to Mr Boer’s team. I wrote to both of them to offer my comments and suggestions, based on my work with students with learning disabilities. Mr Boers representant answered that his boss knew what he was doing and didn’t need advices. Mr Abelardo answered that some of my suggestions were already on the way for the next update, and that he would consider the others for the updates to come. Give him just a little time, and his police will be much better than the one closed to any improvement.

This is the “open” philosophy and attitude: open!!! This is why we should always choose “open” software instead of any money-maker products. “Open” creators work with passion instead of ambition, and want to share instead of sell. “Open Dyslexic” is one of these products made with passion and desire to share. Who could ask for anything more?

Jenesa Hills says:

Correction request from the creator of OpenDyslexic

Its about taking the necessary steps to boost benefit, clients have ethics, organizations (when all is said in done) don’t. Moral organizations act that way on the grounds that their pioneers have confidence in doing as such, the decrease their benefit for more prominent’s benefit, which is for the most part disapproved of by the business world. I had faced the same situation while I was working for a company which compare broadband suppliers

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...