Anglia Ruskin University: ARU research inspires new dyslexia-friendly novel

Research by Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) has inspired the publication of a special edition of a novel designed to be more accessible for people with dyslexia.

Independent publisher RedDoor Press has produced a dyslexia-friendly edition of The Daisy Chain, a new novel by Al Campbell, using extra spacing between the words and lines of type, and a purpose-designed font called Open Dyslexic.

Despite there being approximately 6 million people with dyslexia in the UK, very few books are produced in such a dyslexia-accessible format. The team at RedDoor, along with the author, himself dyslexic, believe it to be the first time that this special formatting has been used for a newly published novel for adults.

Research led by Dr Steven Stagg, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), discovered that text with additional spacing improved accessibility for children with dyslexia. It improved their reading speed by 13% and also benefited non-dyslexic children, increasing their reading speed by 5%.

Dr Stagg’s study, published last September in the journal Research in Developmental Disabilities, also found that larger letter spacing resulted in a significant reduction in the number of words being missed by children with dyslexia.

Despite leading research in this area, Dr Stagg, who is himself dyslexic, was surprised at the difference the extra spacing made when he read the dyslexia-friendly edition of The Daisy Chain. Dr Stagg said:

“I read the dyslexia-friendly version first, without any difficulty, wondering if it actually made an improvement. Then I opened the conventionally typeset version and couldn’t even begin to read it.

“I just had the sensation of the page moving and of seeing light and dark contrasts rather than letters. The dyslexia-friendly version is so much more readable. Seeing Al Campbell and the publishing team at RedDoor Press put our research into practice like this is a wonderful validation of our academic work.”

RedDoor Press publishing director Heather Boisseau said it had been an interesting new route to explore. She said:
“It is an exciting experiment for us to make our books accessible to neuro-diverse readers and see how they respond. With modern Print on Demand technology, it is now simple to typeset a manuscript in a completely different way and offer those who are challenged by reading the opportunity to enjoy modern contemporary fiction.

“We’re proud that a small independent publisher like RedDoor Press has taken the initiative by producing a novel for adults in this format and, if the early results prove the benefit across a wider cohort of dyslexics, we hope this will encourage other publishers to do the same.”

The Daisy Chain is a historical novel based around Kew Gardens in 1771 and the discovery of the Bird of Paradise flower, which King George III named Strelitzia Regina in honour of his wife Charlotte von Mecklenburg de Strelitz.

Its author, Al Campbell, hopes this special edition of the book will be the first of many works made available in this way. He said:
“I meet many young and adult dyslexics who are frightened by a page crammed with words and have never owned a book – the moment I read the ARU research I knew there was an opportunity to do something about it.

“Government statistics suggest that 10% of the population in the UK is dyslexic so, hopefully, this much more accessible edition will encourage the neuro-diverse to buy their first novel and carry it around with a sense of pride in being able to read at last.”

The dyslexia-friendly edition of The Daisy Chain is priced £8.99. Al is also author of A Dyslexic Writes, published by the Helen Arkell Dyslexia Centre in 2009, one of the first books written on the topic of living with dyslexia and a dyslexic family, by a dyslexic writer.