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Colorblindness and Accessibility: Things Unseen

Part of what we talked about in class was accessibility and disability beyond the wheelchair. Accessibility is big, moving and expanding, one of our jobs in Project Bloom is to highlight accessibility gaps that might be looked over. 

What is Color Blindness Exactly? 

Picture of an iconic building at Saint Josephs University with various filters to simulate colorblindness. This is a personal photo I took in 2019

Color Blindness is an inability to perceive differences between certain colors that non-colored impaired individuals can identify. One in twelve men and approximately one in 200 women, or about 4.5% of the global population experience some form of colorblindness. Red-green color vision impairments (otherwise known as Deuteranomaly and Protanomaly impairments) are the most common form of color blindness.Other affected individuals have trouble distinguishing between shades of yellow ( known as Tritanomaly), red and green. Color blind individuals face many difficulties in everyday life in which people who can see all colors are not aware of. Issues may arise in certain activities including preparing food, selecting clothes to wear, functioning on websites and watching presentations.

Lifestyle Accessibility Issues 

Most red/green color blind individuals will not know if they have cooked meat raw or well done, and they are unlikely able to tell the difference between green and ripe tomatoes. In the colorblind community this is an extreme frustration that, at times, feels hopeless. Fruit stickers with gradients is a new fruit and vegetable adaptation that indicates when the product is ripe and ready to eat. On the sticker,  there are photos to indicate when a vegetable is ripe or not. While the intention of the invention was to reduce food waste, it serves a second purpose of aiding those with colorblindness. Despite the possibility of not being able to see the proper color of the fruit, they can still use the photo comparison to tell when their produce is ready to eat. 

An additional challenge for those with colorblindness is online shopping. Jason Sherrill, a colorblind blogger, discusses his experiences of buying products online.  Most websites do not indicate the color of the products, they assume that everyone can see them. Typically, there is just a selection option of color without saying what the actual color is. Sherrill describes a specific instance where he ran into this issue. “ I had to choose a color for the storage case I was ordering. They presented two choices, both of which looked black to me. Since I didn’t think they’d make me choose between black & black, I concluded that one of the swatches must be dark red or dark brown”. Due to their lack of description and awareness for various disabilities, Sherrill had to make an educated guess. Fortunately, this is an issue that many companies like Amazon are attempting to fix. Companies are now adding descriptions to photos that label their colors, with the addition of alt text, color blind users can distinguish the specific colors of the products. 

Any information that is provided in color has the potential of alienating people with color blindness. This is a paramount issue when it comes to presentations or general marketing. In an interview with Colour Blind Awareness, a Property Director of a major retailer discussed his color blindness. He revealed that he is often unsure of information presented to him when they are in color formats. The director also admitted that he decides to occasionally overlook information rather than asking and draw attention to himself.

Colorblind Perspective of a presentation Courtesy of Colourblind.org
Regular Presentation Courtesy of Colorblind.org

Designers of presentations and web designers are often not aware of how inaccessible certain color combinations can be for people with color blindness. While it is difficult to accommodate everything on websites and in presentations there are two easy steps that can be followed so that those with color blindness are able to function comfortably. 

  1. Description: Label color choices with an “alt text” scroll over option so that the color can be read instead of visualized when needed. 
  2. Contrast: Test interfaces and documents for contrast. People with colorblindness cannot perceive certain colors but can distinguish contrasts with more certainty. 

Colorblindness is a disability that can go severely unnoticed. As discussed in class, it is an accessibility issue that goes beyond the wheelchair. Awareness for this disability is key, if individuals become more conscious of the struggles, we can help a significant amount of the population function a little bit easier. 

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