Colour blind: What do you do at traffic lights?

An Ishihara test
Apparently this has a “2” in it. I can’t see anything except a load of dots

There’s been one of those chain posts going around facebook recently. In it you are challenged to post 7 things people might not know about you. I’ve not been asked and I doubt I could come up with seven (or would want to) but one thing I think a lot of people are not aware of is that I am colour blind. I have one of the more common forms of colour blindness called “red-green”.

What does that mean?

First a few myths to dispel:

  • I can see colours, “colour blind” is a misnomer
  • I can see red and green and I don’t get all reds and green mixed up.
  • Whilst I struggle with some red/green combinations those are not the only ones I struggle with
  • I can see traffic lights just fine thanks.

On that last note (and with a nod to the post title) I once was asked so many, frankly, daft questions by someone about my colour blindness that I told them my driving licence allowed me to go through any traffic light regardless of colour (it doesn’t and I don’t but they were getting on my nerves).

My disability means I am unable to consistently distinguish certain colour shades. So whereas a “normal” person might be able to pick out the same shade of red as red regardless of lighting etc. I cannot. As a child I drove my mother mad when shopping for school trousers as I would consistently pick up dark green or navy ones instead of black. When playing snooker once I had to get my opponent to hold his finger over the brown ball as every time I bent down to take my shot the ball “disappeared” into the cushion behind it. My children used to have gresat fun asking me to “pass the orange” crayon and wait for me to pick up the light brown one.

I can’t explain it fully as I don’t understand it fully. I know it has to do with the cones in my eye and the way my brain interprets but to be honest the medical definition won’t help you much unless you understand the medical stuff.

Why am I telling you?

I am telling you all this because I have noticed an increase of text-on-images around the web. When text is text on a page I can adjust my browser to ensure I can see it. When text is embedded in an image I cannot and some of those colour combinations you use are literally making me nauseas. No I mean it. One side effect of my disability is that when certain colours/shades are next to each other my eyes struggle to pick out the dividing edge. The result is my eyes keep trying and failing to focus and this has a similar effect to vertigo or migraine on me. I have been known to vomit after seeing a red-on-blue poster in a shop (I did make it outside) and  I once feinted in a meeting because the person in front was wearing a green shirt with red pinstripes. So if you meet me and I say “Your shirt is making me sick” I may not be kidding or being rude.

I am saying all this to ask you to be more careful about the images you post. At best I (and the 10% of the male population like me) won’t be able to see it. At worst it will make me feel ill and I will either mention it or will just block you if you are a repeat offender. It’s not personal, it’s just that I’d rather not feel sick from reading the web (I make a point of not going to the Daily Mail website for the same reason).

You want examples don’t you. I can tell. Well I’m not going to give you any because to do so would mean looking for poor examples and that would make me ill. What I will do is point you at this website which gives you tips on making design – be it website, posters, flyers or images – more friendly to colour-blind people. I can vouch for the examples they give. Yes it’s American so they spell “colour” wrong 🙂

Tips for designing for colorblind users

It’s not just colour-blindness

Just for your information it’s not just colour blind people you can and should make allowances for. There are a range of visual impairments which people using the web may have. So posting an image without a text alternative (an Alt tag) will prejudice against some and posting text which has a low contrast with its background will affect others. Nobody is saying you can’t have that “cool” design (although I question whether all of them are indeed cool) but if your aim is for people to read, peruse and browse your work then you will exclude a significant proportion of people by refusing to allow for them. In certain jurisdictions it may be illegal to not allow for those with visual impairment under Disability discrimination acts and the like. Sadly colour blindness is left out of test designed to check against those laws but I am asking you – on behalf of all of us who walk around in a world of grey-shade (or not if you have been paying attention) to please include us or we will exclude you.