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.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Oct 2012 @ 2:30pm

    Its all about doing whatever it takes to maximize profit, customers have morals, businesses (in general) do not. Moral businesses behave that way because their leaders believe in doing so, the reduce their profit for the greater good, which is generally frowned upon by the business world.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    gorehound (profile), 10 Oct 2012 @ 2:53pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Abelardo Gonzalez, 10 Oct 2012 @ 3:37pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Vidiot (profile), 10 Oct 2012 @ 3:48pm

      Re: Correction request from the creator of OpenDyslexic

      Hats off to you, my friend, for doing what you do.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ophelia Millais (profile), 10 Oct 2012 @ 8:25pm

      Re: Correction request from the creator of OpenDyslexic

      The info in this article came from the cited article on DailyTech, which says "At the time he was charging a nominal fee," so the correction should be made there, as well.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Luke, 11 Oct 2012 @ 2:44am

      Re: Correction request from the creator of OpenDyslexic

      "It's purpose is to help people, not generate a profit"

      You deserve a prize. Selfish money-grabbing is becoming more and more prevalent in the invention/business/capitalist world. This is somewhat refreshing to see. Thank you.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 11 Oct 2012 @ 3:40am

      Re: Correction request from the creator of OpenDyslexic

      I've been thinking for a while, besides donations how can we put in place a system to reward those who do as you did? (as in provide a free solution to a problem)

      In any case, it's one epic win for you dear sir.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Oct 2012 @ 4:01pm

    TechnoMage, Babylon 5 fans I bet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), 10 Oct 2012 @ 4:06pm

    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.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mike, 10 Oct 2012 @ 4:33pm

    Boer should seek employment with Apple...he would fit right in.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Oct 2012 @ 4:08am


    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 : )

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    RobM (profile), 11 Oct 2012 @ 4:50pm


    Dyslexics of the World, Untie!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Charade, 14 May 2013 @ 1:23pm

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon, 17 Jun 2014 @ 6:50am

    The original Dyslexie font is now free for home use
    Download it for free at

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Athir Dagher, 8 Sep 2017 @ 7:25am

    I'm also searching for this answers and then I found your article, it was really great to see this because I'm writing an assignment on mobile app designer that who they create a well now app, and then I found your article.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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