Eighth Graders Win Prize for App to Help People With Dyslexia

ByGeri Coleman Tucker on Mar 19, 2015

A group of hardworking teens is trying to make reading easier for people with . Meet team Mind Glass.

These seven eighth-graders attend Rice Middle School in Plano, Texas. They researched and designed an app to customize reading experiences for users with dyslexia. And their project won a Verizon Innovation App Challenge for middle schools.

Why an app for dyslexia? The original idea came from the team’s leader, 14-year-old Rishi Shridharan. He has several friends with dyslexia, and says he saw teachers pull them out of the classroom for small groups or special reading instruction.

Shridharan thought there must be a better way. “They are excluded from things that they would be able to do if we only gave them the right tools,” he says.

So for a science fair project last year, Shridharan surveyed people with dyslexia. He wanted to find out what type fonts, colors, shapes and sizes they said helped them read best.

This school year, he took the project further with the help of Rocio Martinez, a Spanish teacher at Rice. They put together a team of students to research and develop an app to submit to the Verizon competition.

The team includes Michael Abraham, Sahil Bolar, Lauren Bramlett, Caitlyn Prill, Alex Weiss and David Yue.

Last September, the group shifted into high gear. The deadline for proposals was November.

The students had to send in their research, and information about who the app is for and how would work. They also had to submit a video explaining the project.

The team from Rice surveyed people with dyslexia online, and found there are certain fonts and colors they tended to prefer, according to Yue. But that doesn’t mean that the same approach will work with everyone.

“No two people with dyslexia see the same,” says Prill. “And not a lot of them get the personalized help they need.”

The goal is for users to be able to personalize the view of the text that makes reading easiest for them, says Shridharan. Once they have a format they like, the app will save their preferences. And they can use it to view any piece of text.

There’s not much research about special fonts that make it easier for people with dyslexia to read. However, the Rice students reviewed the primary research they found. And they worked hard to ask many people with dyslexia what worked best for them.

The team from Rice was one of four to win the app challenge. The prize: $20,000 for the school, and tablets, backpacks and T-shirts for the team. The winning teams also get to work with a developer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab.

The developer will help the students actually create the app and bring it to market. But the team members will be writing the software, according to Shridharan. And their friends who have dyslexia will do the beta testing. The team hopes to have the app available for Android devices by June.

If your child has learning and thinking differences, look into other new apps that can make learning easier.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Geri Coleman Tucker is a freelance writer and editor and a former deputy managing editor for