Dyslexia-friendly e-reader Leo aims to remove barriers in creative education

The free platform aims to “make reading lists readable” by allowing users to customise text size, colour and spacing, and watch or listen to the book read aloud by key design industry figures.

27 January 2021


Dyslexia is prevalent among creative people yet, according to new e-reading platform Leo, remains a significant barrier within creative higher education. Started by three advertising industry professionals, Leo is a free online tool aiming to make “reading lists readable” by allowing users to customise a digital copy of a book by adapting text size, colour and spacing, or even watch or listen to the book being read aloud. The platform launches with How to do better creative work by Steve Harrison, and plans to build a library of key titles used in creative higher education.

“Despite the £100bn advertising industry recognising the positive benefits of recruiting people with dyslexia and other neurodiverse conditions, it is failing at the first hurdle,” says a statement from the Leo creators. They say reading lists are causing students to “doubt their ability” or even give up altogether. Research by the team found that two thirds of students weren’t able to complete their reading lists and three quarters felt they were put at a disadvantage because of them.

So Leo aims to remove those barriers, claiming to be the first online reading library dedicated to books for the creative industries. Founders James Hillhouse, Kat Pegler and Alex Fleming worked alongside UX designer Evert Martin, who himself has dyslexia and used his experience to inform the platform interface and functionality. The features were then created and formed with the guidance of dyslexic university students and dyslexia experts to make the Leo as natural to use as possible.

Giving options to customise text and watch or listen to text being read allows users to personalise the experience according to how they best absorb and digest information. There’s also a ruler so readers can follow where they are on the page, and a “focus mode” which strips away visual distractions. Chapters are read by key industry figures such as Rosie Arnold, Futurimpose’s Ollie Olanipekun and Mother’s Joe Staples, in audio and video form; plus there is extra video content wherein these contributors offer introductions to the text and their opinions on it.


Leo (Copyright © Leo, 2021)

“On the surface, the advertising and digital industries are set up for people with dyslexia to thrive because they rely on divergent thinking to ensure that the products they are selling are noticed,” says Pegler. “This kind of thinking is second nature to people with dyslexia who tend to think less linearly, and more holistically than people who are neurotypical. However, each year, students with dyslexia looking to break into the industry are being put at a disadvantage that is blocking their entry – the reading lists that accompany the courses they take.”

“Leo is on a mission to make the future of education more accessible for students with dyslexia,” she continues. “Today is just the first step towards this goal – we now need the help of authors, publishers, brands, and potential funders to join the cause and back the platform. It’s an absolute no brainer that we should be doing more to help get people with dyslexia into the industry. By making Leo free and available to all, we’re hopefully making that a little bit easier.”

To mark the launch, Leo is hosting a free virtual event titled Thinking Sideways on 28 January 2021, aimed at students and young people looking to break into the industry, especially those who are neurodivergent. It will feature some of the leading figures from the worlds of advertising and dyslexia and will be a relaxed 90-minute event mixing talks, interviews, and audience interaction. To sign up click here.

GalleryLeo (Copyright © Leo, 2021)

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Leo (Copyright © Leo, 2021)

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

After five years as It’s Nice That’s news editor, Jenny became online editor in June 2021, overseeing the website’s daily editorial output.

Jenny is currently on maternity leave.

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