Thursday, 10 January 2008

Contrast this with colour blindness

This is a bit off-topic, but I was reading a description of some projects at the 2008 BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition [1], and came across this:
...Similar clever thinking was evident in the project prepared by Adam Keilthy (14) and Conor Scully (13) second years from Sutton Park School in Dublin. They developed a web browser that first scans and then changes screen colours to improve the view for those with red-green colour blindness.

"We built a web browser that would automatically adjust so you can see it better," explained Adam. Those with this common genetic disorder find it difficult or impossible to differentiate between green and red. Many web pages make ample use of these colours, making it difficult for the colour blind to read them. Adam wrote software that scans pixel by pixel, changing green to turquoise and red to purple.

"You can get yellow-blue colour blindness and total colour blindness, but these two conditions are very rare so we didn't programme for them," added Conor.

They also conducted a survey of classmates finding that 8 per cent of the boys had red-green colour blindness and one girl out of 90 female classmates.

Apart from the fact that this is amazing work by a 13 and 14 year old, I didn't realise so many people are colour-blind, and it seems that it's sex-linked so that men have the worst of it (about 10% have some form, source: Wikipedia).

I can't find out any additional details on the web about the work by these guys, but I did find some good resources relating to web-accessibility and colour-blindness. The first is an existing Firefox extension called ColorBlindExt which runs the standard colour-blindness tests, and then adjusts web page colours depending on the results. The second is for those developing web pages, and lists tools to check colour constrast.

[1] This is the premier science fair for secondary school students in Ireland, and the winner is often a finalist in the equivalent European competition.


Andrew Dalke said...

You might be interested in reading some about UI design and interaction development. For example, First Principles of Interaction Design by Tog. I've given a two day lecture on usability and there's an old BOSC 2002 talk on usability.

I had a client once who was red+green colorblind, and he wanted a clustering visualization program, so I used a palette where everything was distinguishable. He was very happy. I was there when he presented it at a conference. At the end someone asked about the strange colors.

For that matter, GRASP (the old electrostatic surface visualization program) uses red/white/blue because the original author was red-green colorblind.

Given the non-trivial number of people who are red-green colorblind, I'm surprised that all the expression display programs use red and green for the display. Yes, the biology is that way, but the software doesn't need to be, so why hinder the 5% of the viewers who have a hard time telling them apart?

There are also international issues related to colors, like in some countries where a certain color is related to death. Or in the US and Europe where "red" implies danger, so highlighting something in red can imply negativity.


another use of change in color scheme is helpful for dyslexics. who can read faster sometimes due to different colorscheme.