On hearing and accessibility

There are a lot of things that I take for granted that I shouldn’t and I’m sorry to say that the ability to hear is pretty high up on that list. David Peter‘s piece on Model View Culture brought me to this realisation and it’s something I’d encourage anyone to read.

Accessibility matters. A lot. And it’s something that I’ve actively been trying to get better at for a while now. I check colour schemes for compatibility with different types of colour blindness, make sure colour contrast ratio’s are up to par and that text is big enough to be legible et cetera. The problem (for want of a better word) with all of those tests though is that they only cater to varying degrees of blindness. None of them improve whatever it is I’m working on for deaf or hard of hearing people. Sure, as a UI designer I don’t come into contact with much video or audio work but I’ll admit that, until recently, improving accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing people in my work is something I’d barely even considered which is just wrong.

From David’s article:

Fixing culture starts with small steps. Make accessibility a priority—part of your product cycle. Assume people with disabilities will be present at your events and accommodate us with captionists. Tear out ableism from our language, eliminating idioms like “falling on deaf ears” that equate deafness with ignorance. Recognize communication friction exists, and that connecting with us—people with expertise and opinions and emotions—means working through that friction, always.

David is a software engineer at Kickstarter and has been deaf his whole life. I could quote many more parts of his piece, but that would be doing it an injustice. Instead, I’ll just leave you with this excerpt:

A high school classmate once expressed to my mother how I had inspired him to pursue programming seriously. If David can do it, so can I, he had said. He assumed I couldn’t program because he thought of me as broken, and my mere presence shattered his expectations. I can do better than the deaf kid, he had thought.

You should go and read about David’s experiences, perspective and thoughts right now.

Designing Apps for the Visually Impaired

Launching into the design (or redesign) of your app is exciting. You’ve got plenty of ideas floating around, sketches and wireframes everywhere and when the time comes to get cracking in Photoshop, you can’t wait to get started. At this stage there are plenty of thing to keep in consideration — colours, typography, grids etc. — but with these comes another consideration that is equally as important: accessibility.

As an app designer or developer, it’s normal to want to get as many people using your creation as possible. Unfortunately, there are many people who suffer from various forms of disability that could potentially hinder the experience they have with your app if these disabilities have not been taken into consideration in the design process. Each person that has a bad experience with your app means (at least) one less user for you and obviously, that’s something we don’t want.

The main types of disability that can have an effect on how people experience your app are as follows:

  • Visual: This includes people who are completely, partially, or colour blind amongst others.
  • Auditory: People who are completely or partially deaf are included in this category as are those who have bad speech perception.
  • Cognitive: This includes people who have learning disorders, dyslexia amongst others.
  • Motor: The results of motor impairment include lack of muscle control, poor stamina and muscle weakness amongst others. Each of the the above merit their own blog post so today we’re going to focus specifically on the various types of colour blindness, understanding them and testing for them to ensure the best possible experience for visually impaired people.

What is colour blindness?

If somebody is colour blind that does not necessarily mean that they are monochromats — people who can only distinguish brightness variations but not colours — which is the rarest form of colour blindness. It more commonly refers to people who have difficulty perceiving reds, yellows and greens from one another.

Full colour vs Monochrome

Deuteranopia, a subtype of red/green colour blindness, is the most common form of colour blindness affecting an estimated 1% of all males. This does not mean that people affected with this type of colour blindness will mix up red and green, but rather that they will confuse colours that are made up of red or green as a whole. For example, not being able to distinguish the difference between blue and purple.

Full colour vs Deuteranopia

The different types of colour blindness

We have already talked about the most common (deuteranopia) and the least common (monochromacy) types of colour blindness but there are two more variations that we should to be aware of as well:

  • Protanopia: The inability to distinguish between blue and green colours as well as between red and green colours.
  • Tritanopia: These people will confuse green with blue and yellow with violet.

Full colour vs Protanopia vs Tritanopia

What can we do as designers?

With the release of iOS 7, Apple has put a lot of focus on colour. Each app should have one key colour that defines all of the interactivity throughout the app (for example orange in Ember).

When selecting your colour palette, this is important to keep in mind. If your body, headline and key colours are indistinguishable from one another for someone with one of the aforementioned disabilities then all notion of colour based interactivity is lost within your app. Not good.

iOS 7 does offer some extra accessibility settings for people with disabilities, however these should not be relied on. They’re there to work with your app, helping out where possible (increasing text size with dynamic type etc.). They are not there to do all of the accessibility work for us.

Testing for visual disabilities

Fortunately, there are ways we can test our designs to make sure that everyone can have the same experience with our app.

Photoshop offers built-in testing for the two most common types of colour blindness, deuteranopia and protanopia.

Skala Preview is my tool of choice for seeing what my designs look like, in real time, on a device. It is particularly useful because it also has the ability to to preview designs from the point of view of people with deuteranopia, protanopia and tritanopia as well as monochromats.


Sim Daltonism will allow you to test all of the visual impairments we have discussed directly on your Mac.

Wrapping Up

With the ever growing ownership of smartphones, computers and various other digital interfaces it is more important than ever to ensure that what we create is accessible to the largest amount of people possible. This means taking into consideration not only ourselves but those who have visual, auditory, cognitive or motor disabilities as well.

This post was originally written for the Realmac Software blog.