Being partially colourblind, I have an accessibility issue. It’s the sort of issue that many other people don’t take particularly seriously (and of course, it’s nowhere near the same league as any of the main sensory deprivations, for example). Often, when I tell people I’m partially colourblind, they say ‘Really? Oh, what colour’s this then?’ This is a minor variant of asking somebody that is visually impaired ‘Really? Oh, can you see this then?’
How does colourblindness manifest itself for the colourblind? In my case, it’s not as if I don’t perceive colour at all, it’s more like I have difficulty in identifying recognised colours or tones, and naming them. It sometimes means that I will mismatch colours, such as when painting or choosing clothing. I remember designing a piece of interactive media for my MA and my tutor remarking that if I wanted to do anything with it, I’d need to change the colours. This means that when required to make colour-based judgements, I will often need to lean on someone else to help me not misjudge.
I have been asked in the past if I see things in black and white (or more realistically, in monochrome), like dogs are supposed to do. An understandable question, perhaps, if you’re not colourblind and have no idea what it’s like, but a pretty ridiculous thing to say to somebody who is. Having said that, I’m aware that much of my wardrobe tends to be in various shades of grey. Maybe I lack the confidence to make obvious statements in colour.
Digital tools can be very useful for the likes of me to help with things like making colour-based design choices. Palettes, such as at color-hex.com, are great for choosing sets of colours that go together. I’ll often seek out the hex code of a colour rather than choosing something from a colour picker. The W3Schools Colours pages are a great starting point for learning more about a broad range of colour-related applications. Paletton has a great feature to simulate a range of forms of colourblindness for those with or without colour vision impairments.
The vast majority of Accessibility features on my iPhone are set to Off – probably the default setting. I experimented with a few, having never tried them before. Zoom enables magnification of items on the screen itself, while Magnifier uses the device’s camera to magnify actual objects. Both of these features seem to work very effectively. Within Display Accommodations, it’s also possible to apply colour filters to help users identify colours. I must admit, after trying a few, I didn’t like any of them and went back to the default settings again. Perhaps my partial colourblindness really is a fairly minor affliction after all.
As I understand it, Apple has always been a major driver in making their technologies accessible to people with a broad range of accessibility challenges. This blog post tells the tale of Austin Seraphin, blind from birth, and his transformative experiences with his first iPhone. This Lifehacker page outlines some other uses of the iPhone’s accessibility features.
In 2016, it’s very easy to be deeply concerned about ‘big tech’, their increasing power in our world, and concerns about things like data gathering or information security. It’s important not to lose sight of flipsides to that, however, of the inclusive or even transformative powers that some of our digital devices can bring to some people.