Adobe continues to move readability research forward and welcomes Monotype to the Readability Consortium

Monotype X The Readability Consortium.

As one of the founders of The Readability Consortium, Adobe is pleased to welcome new member, Monotype, as we push forward our mission to bring readability to all. Monotype owns many of the world’s most recognizable typefaces, and along with Adobe and Google and is a global leader in providing fonts for digital reading. Monotype will collaborate with Adobe, Google, Readability Matters, The University of Central Florida, and researchers around the world to share tools, data, and insights into how reading can become more inclusive and universal around the world. The goal is to improve people’s lives in real-world settings from the classroom to the emergency room, through custom, flexible, and personal reading experiences.

Dr. Ben D. Sawyer, director of The Readability Consortium, shares, “Adobe, Monotype, and Google, who hold three of the largest font libraries in the world, are now members of The Readability Consortium. Along with our vibrant community of scientists and type designers, I believe this puts us in a position to change the way the world gets information. Readers need to know that together we are here to improve education, work, or unwinding with your favorite novel.”

Along with these partnerships, The Readability Consortium collaborates with a readability community of over 200 stakeholders around the world, including educators, researchers, designers, and technologists. Their collective input helps ensure The Consortium’s research is comprehensive, inclusive, and truly representative of the diverse needs of readers worldwide. Readability community research includes studies into how text format impacts visual perception, brain activity, behavior, and performance. The Consortium’s work seeks to extend to billions of readers, and we’ve taken a wider global view with partnerships in India and Taiwan, looking at scripts like Mandarin Chinese.

In addition to Monotype joining The Readability Consortium, readability momentum at Adobe continues through training and research initiatives worldwide:

Adobe Readability technology for Health Equity

Readability is often situational, rather than physical. This is the case in Malawi where Adobe partnered with World Education and USAID/PEPFAR to transform paper-based health training aids into digital, mobile-phone-friendly PDFs. The paper documents presented several problems to health workers and families — they disintegrated during the wet season, were expensive to update, and compromised confidentiality.

Moving health training materials from paper to PDF with Liquid Mode on Adobe Acrobat Reader solved all of those problems and more. Our PDFs were downloaded and used over 23,000 times by health workers over 6 months, resulting in far better care and privacy than the older, paper versions. World Education called Liquid Mode on Acrobat Reader a “Tool for Equity”, not only because it allows HIV healthcare materials to be consumed by anyone with a smartphone, but also because Liquid Mode makes it easy to reflow the PDF, adjust font size and spacing, and navigate via outline. The pilot’s success has ignited interest in other areas of the ministry to apply the technology across a number of programs.

Building on the success of the Malawi Project, Adobe is now partnering with World Education and JSI India to address Maternal and Family Health. Over the next year, we hope to support local creation of nutrition guides and prenatal health guides not only in PDF form, but, using the great tools in Adobe Express, will be creating videos, posters, social media posts, and cookbooks to better educate the women of Gujarat State in family health.

The Readability Consortium at The Vision Sciences Society 2024

This past May, The Readability Consortium hosted a community-building workshop at the premier vision sciences conference on Psychophysics, a global discussion for scientists that study how the eye and brain work together to see the world. The workshop was to foster the emerging community of scientific inquiry around digital reading, and participants included researchers from vision science, machine learning, accessibility, and industry. It spanned cultural perspectives and language diversity to promote cross-cultural studies in readability.

Text format and readability are historically niche topics but work by The Readability Consortium has dramatically increased interest. At VSS 2024's inaugural Readability Workshop, there was standing-room-only as scientists from Google, NYU, Johns Hopkins, and more discussed how the format readability impacts reading, and generated hundreds of ideas for future research.

The Consortium researchers presented a record number of posters on the topic. Notably, National Taiwan University shared brain research showing fMRI brain scans which characterize some of the neural processes behind developmental dyslexia. NYU research showed how tight document formats trigger a cognitive bottleneck dubbed ‘crowding’, where clutter makes finding information difficult or impossible. University of Toronto and University of Central Florida psychophysical work showed how small changes to variable fonts can be directly linked to accessibility needs, and University of Tennessee shared work on artificially changing eye behavior to help readers move more quickly through text. Together, these discoveries provide foundations for guidelines and technology that can help build a more readable future (links to research posters below).

Additional work from The Readability Consortium supporting our members and the Vision Science Community:

New Directions in 2024

Moving forward, our research is looking at the role GenAI might play in our reading future. For example, we’re looking at the problem many classroom teachers face in personalizing learning materials for their students. Imagine you’re a high school history teacher with a heterogeneous class of learning styles and abilities. Some of your students are dyslexic, others may be reading at a 6th grade level, and still others are reading on a 12th grade level or beyond. And perhaps some of your students are visual learners who would benefit from a more pictorial approach to the material. But today’s materials are a one-size-fits all offering. TRC researchers at UCF and University of Rhode Island are building prototypes that can take that single offering and produce multiple custom versions of the lesson. In our case, we’d generate one reading at the 6th grade level, another with special spacing and fonts for the dyslexic reader, and perhaps a graphic-novel version of the lesson for the visual learners.

Stay tuned.