What It Feels Like to Be a Dyslexic Reader

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The letters constantly flicker around, and everything seems jumbled. The words seem to make sense at first and then they don’t, and just when you think you’ve figured out the word, it seems to morph into a totally different one. The letters jumble so often and at such a frequency, it’s enough to make you want to give up and not read.

Welcome to what it feels like to have dyslexia, an umbrella category of disorders that make it difficult to discern words and sometimes images while reading. Developer Victor Widell manipulated some JavaScript to mimic what it’s like for a dyslexic person to read, and the post from Widell’s personal blog popped up on a Reddit thread and went viral on social media soon afterward. “A friend who has dyslexia described to me how she experiences reading,” Widell wrote on his site. “She can read, but it takes a lot of concentration, and the letters seem to ‘jump around.’ I remembered reading about typoglycemia, Wouldn’t it be possible to do it interactively on a website with Javascript?”

Dyslexia isn’t a one-size-fits-all description of the disorder, and many have pointed out that Widell’s portrayal of rapidly changing letters is exaggerated and extreme. And some think that Widell’s leaving the first and last letters of each word makes it simpler than it is real life to figure out the words on the page. But most users are grateful to Widell, saying that while it’s true the effects seem exaggerated for a common type of dyslexia — dyslexics can experience a range of reading and speaking impediments — it’s pretty darn close. To wit, here are some thoughts from the person who initially posted the link on Reddit:

I have dyslexia and although this is accurate, this is a more extreme case! … [T]o the people saying this isn’t what dyslexic people see… DUH!!! Nothing will ever show you normals exactly how it truly feels to read while dyslexic. But this is damn close!! The point is to give you normals a little taste of the struggle we have to endure, especially as kid trying to learn how to read!

Widell’s graphic portrayal of dyslexia is definitely a step forward in understanding the disorder, which is difficult for many educators and parents to visualize and can often be debilitating for kids trying to grapple with reading. Dyslexia has no known cure and is often paired with ADHD, making the double whammy of being unable to focus and unable to read one that leaves many students struggling. They might be told they’re dumb or slow, but the fact is that dyslexics are perfectly capable people with normal levels of intelligence. It’s not a commentary on their ability to excel academically so much as an obstacle; with reading being an important factor in school, however, kids can quickly fall behind and feel that something is wrong with them, or that they’re stupid.

Widell hasn’t commented yet on what he plans to do next with his viral experiment, but one thing is for sure: His JavaScript tweaking has made it possible for “normal” people to understand what one in five Americans deals with every day as they try to read.

What It Feels Like to Be a Dyslexic Reader