This is a guest contribution from Rikst Westra*, who was kind enough to write us about her data visualization project Dyslexia. Enjoy!
Dyslexia is a hard thing to comprehend if you’ re seven years old, the age I was diagnosed with it: the reading disease. It’ s something you’ ll get reminded of all day, every day. If you think about the amount of things you have to read on a daily basis , you’ll get a glimpse of why dyslexia is hard to cope with. Imagine having difficulties reading traffic signs, or the movie subtitles that disappear the moment you’ve read the third word. It’s hard to explain what the exact consequences are. But frequently you just don’t understand a text or you haven’t got enough time to read it. Feeling stupid seems to me a feeling inherent to being dyslectic.
I wanted to do a project about the disability to help myself and other dyslectics. So I started questioning myself about my own dyslexia. What are my problems? How can I be helped? How can I help and inform people with what I know and experience? At first I thought it would be nice if there was a solution for dyslexia. Something like a font that made all the dancing letters stand straight and still. Of course I wasn’t the first one with this idea and actually there are all sorts of so-called solutions. Making a font was the one that seemed the most logical to me. Great attempts were made by others, but the results they produced were not effective for every dyslexic.
At the same time, my research also steered me towards the origin of dyslexia in the brain. I know the problem, but I don’t know where it comes from. I wanted to know what was actually ‘wrong’ with my brain. As a child it had been explained to me as ‘a missing road’. It turned out to be quite a good explanation of the process of understanding letters and language in your brain.
During my research all sorts of really interesting things about our brain came up. For example the reading process takes place in the left brain hemisphere. As it turns out dyslectics have inborn brain damage in the back of their left brain hemisphere which causes the trouble. In the dyslectic brain the automated way just doesn’t develop. To really comprehend the theory I started making maps. You could say that in the dyslectic brain the main highway is missing so the information has to take a detour via smaller and slower roads. But not only is the highway missing, depending on the person a lot of other roads can be missing too. These detours are different with every dyslexic and so dyslexia is different with every dyslexic. That’s why ‘the one solution’ doesn’t exist.
I also noticed I began to understand more and more about how my dyslexia works. I could explain for myself why I had trouble reading and even listening and talking. This comprehension took away a lot of my insecurities concerning language. This feeling and understanding was exactly what I wanted to share with people. Understanding your own brain helps dealing with the problems you run into.
As I said before, the metaphor of ‘a missing road’ together with the different brain regions made me think of a map. The first sketches of maps were flat and quite complicated to read, as I noticed dyslexia is an abstract problem, and you actually need a lot of text explaining it. Getting around these enormous amounts of text proved to be very hard. The problem in my first sketches was the lack of division in basic and additional information. I started thinking about how I could create a clear and rustic picture. Using space and less color was the answer for me.
My final work is a three-dimensional map of your left brain hemisphere. The map shows the main road of the ‘normal’ language-process, so in the map itself you don’t actually see dyslexia. Every stage of the process is turned into a city. The cities are, of course, connected by roads. Next to the map I explained what happens in each city and which problems dyslectics could run into if the city doesn’t work ‘properly’. At every city I also summed up some of the solutions that could help.
I decided to make the infographic out of wood because I didn’t want it to have a medical feeling. I choose to leave it untreated because of the beauty of the material and the accent it puts on the landscape and the information. Legibility is very important for dyslexics. The way I made the wood into a landscape is in the first place based on the MRI-scan, who gave us all this information about the brain. In the second place, I have been looking at altitude maps. The map is lasered out of plywood, which enhances the layers.
*After finishing her A-levels in Amsterdam, Rikst Westra applied at AKV|St. Joost in Breda, the Netherlands. Initially wanting to be a fashion designer, she instead discovered her passion for graphic design, specifically infographic design and typography. In her work she holds her one hand in the digital world, her other is used to use to appreciate the structure of the materials she uses.
She graduated in 2012 with the ‘Dyslexie’ project, and you can find out more about her at www.rikst.com.
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