Colour blindness: do technology companies do enough to help?

colour blindness technology
Photo by Stephen Phillips on Unsplash

1-in-12 men and 1-in-200 women have colour blindness (colour vision deficiency, or CVD). Most colour blind people are able to see things as clearly as other people but are unable to fully ‘see’ red, green or blue light. There are different types of colour blindness and there are extremely rare cases where people are unable to see any colour at all.

For quite a few years some technology firms have made great strides towards adding better features for colour blindness. Whether browsing an iPhone, using Trello or playing a recent Call of Duty game, you’ll find a host of options available for colour blind users.

What’s the problem?

The fact that things have improved so much makes it even more unusual when you find big companies making obvious omissions in the this area.

A tweet responding to my article on the lights on BT’s Whole Home Wi-Fi brought this to my attention:

In this case, he can tell the difference between red and blue, so a better selection of colours would have helped. But others will have other issues.

For users with colour blindness – just like Stephen – the lack of accommodation in technology makes a user feel totally forgotten. Undoubtedly, these users will make purchasing decisions based upon this.

What’s the problem? Status lights

LED status lights are on an awful lot of hardware products – security cameras, video doorbells, routers, you name it. Most tech products without a screen on them rely on a simple coloured light.

In the case of lights, there are a number of solutions…

  • Make it so that the lights can be changed – either from a specific selection, taking into account different levels of colour-blindness, or make them completely customisable. However, this relies on signing into a whole extra service to do this, which may not be a possibility.
  • Better still, it’s generally regarded to be good design to avoid using colour alone to express information. The Apple TV, for example, uses a single white LED to communicate status

What’s the problem? Inconsistency

Status lights aside, the biggest issue is inconsistency across manufacturers. Where some companies are happy to have settings for colour blind users, others seem reluctant.

Take Amazon’s Fire TV stick for example. It only has an option for a high contrast mode and even that is “experimental”. In comparison, Apple TV has a whole slew of what they term “display accommodations“, including a range of colour filters.

What’s the problem? No industry standards & no enforcement

Whilst the technology industry will get together to form new standards for physical connectors or for interfacing with IoT devices, there’s been no attempt to do the same with product accessibility. It wouldn’t be difficult for the big technology firms to collaborate and create a simple and consistent standard for how to do this.

At the same time, a lack of enforcement means this isn’t a priority. And even when it is, support is spotty. For example, the UK has rules for public sector websites, but that’s heavily weakened by lists of odd and wide ranging exemptions.

How do I find out more?

Despite being so common, colour blindness is woefully under-represented in terms of charities and general health organisations devoted to it.

In the UK, although covered (albeit lightly) by the RNIB, I’d recommend Colour Blind Awareness, a company founded to raise awareness of colour blindness.

About the author

David Artiss

Works for Automattic Inc., the company behind WordPress.com and Tumblr. Tech geek, international speaker and occasional PC Pro podcaster. Lover of Lego and video games.

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