Dyslexia keyboard

Late last year, two Babson College students introduced RapKey, an app that spices up your texts by converting messages into hip hop lyrics. Now, the same duo—Jonah Kaner and Ativ Patel—have developed a second app based on the concept of custom keyboards. But instead of making texts look sexier, this one focuses on a serious need in the market: Accommodating reading disorders. DyslexiaKey, which debuted in the iTunes store this week, aims to help those affected by the learning difficulty to avoid some of the common frustrations that come with texting. And the pool of people that might find the app useful is pretty large, considering the fact that as much as 15 to 20 percent of the population as a whole have some of the symptoms of this learning developmental disorder, according to the International Dyslexia Association.

Custom keyboard potential

Mobile developer and Babson student Ativ Patel told me that the basic idea behind both RapKey and DyslexiaKey was that using just a keyboard, they could create a different type of template that could then be applied to a range of purposes. For example, an ABC keyboard could prove far easier to use for kids and individuals with certain learning disabilities than the traditional QWERTY keyboard.

“We feel that there’s a lot of potential to help make people’s lives easier by making niche experiences that works across all of your applications,” Patel said. “Keyboard extensions are a very unique opportunity because a custom keyboard carries throughout all iOS experiences and third party applications, meaning that one of our keyboards can become part of your daily life and possibly every time you type on your iPhone. There’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a keyboard for those with dyslexia, seeing how it’s the most common learning difficulties.”

An app with personal ties

There were several reasons why the duo decided to address dyslexia specifically. For one, Patel’s aunt heads Creative Solutions for Hope, a special education school in Costa Mesa, Calif., that uses applied behavioral analysis to create individualized instruction for kids with disabilities. Patel also said two of his best friends have dyslexia, and he’s seen how discouraging it can be for them.

Once the team decided to hone in on this particular challenge, they conducted research on the way dyslexia works to inform the keyboard’s functionality.

Patel explained that people with dyslexia often unconsciously switch, rotate and mirror letters in their minds—and unfortunately, traditional typefaces make this symptom of dyslexia worse. This is because these fonts base certain letter designs on others (like b and d), inadvertently creating “twin letters” that can confuse people with the disorder.

DyslexiaKey leverages the open-source font called OpenDyslexic, which was created by Abelardo Gonzalez. To help combat the symptoms of the disability, letters have heavy-weighted bottoms to emphasize their direction. Since dyslexics are then able to quickly figure out which part of the letter is down, their brain is less likely to rotate them around and they’re more likely to recognize the correct letter. Consistently weighted bottoms can also help reinforce the line of text, as the unique shapes of each letter can help prevent confusion as a result of flipping and swapping.

Patel noted that while the app is in its full form in the iTunes store, the team will continue to iterate and improve it. By adding auto-correct, word suggestions and other features, there is immense potential for making DyslexiaKey even more effective.