WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

E-mail List Archives

Selecting general color themes was Teaching web accessibility...


From: Kimputer@aol.com
Date: Nov 20, 2003 8:27AM


Aside from the physics of color matching, selecting general color themes and
their role in page presentation is also important. To this end, I taught a
small class of blind and visually impaired high school students how to design a
simple personal web site last year as part of my internship.

To allow the totally blind students to select color themes that reflected
their personalities and/or present a 'mood' or represent the purpose of their
site, I gave explanations similar to this. First, I explained a few basic color
ideas, such as warm colors, cool colors, soft, bright, harsh, garish, etc. Then
I presented the following scene.

"Imagine that the web site is a building. Decide what type of building it is,
a home, office, warehouse, etc. What is the mood or message you wish the site
to portray?"

"Each room has a floor and walls. The floor is the main section of the web
page. The menus are walls/doors. The web colors you select can make the 'room'
have a feeling, much like the difference between walking on carpet or a
concrete floor. Contrasting colors or similar shades could be like a gentle breeze or
a storm, barely noticeable or assaulting our senses and distracting the

Text and graphics represent the furniture. In your web pages, do you want the
sighted individuals who visit it to be able to read it easily and find what
they want quickly? This is like a room being too cluttered, having
uncomfortable or hard furniture to sit on, and so forth. A graphic without text may be
like a piece of modern furniture or art that is so unusual it leaves a person
wondering what the item is and whether they should sit on it or if it's just
something the person who put it there likes?

The students in the class became so enthused and so excited about putting
certain colors and graphics on their pages, it was simply incredible. They
couldn't wait for their sighted friends and family to see their work. One decided he
was 'cool' and that he was the 'Ice Man' and had a great time letting a
sighted classmate or instructor describe blue and white colors and he selected
ice/cold related graphics based on the descriptions given to him - after stating
whether he wanted cartoon style, photo/realistic style, etc. graphics and
thinking of cold items he thought related to his ideas. This may also assist in
determining appropriate alt text.

Before I presented the above to the class, one blind student in particular
didn't care how the site looked to the sighted since he couldn't see them
himself, and didn't want to bother. He quickly changed his mind when I asked him if
it meant that a deaf person could scream near him all he wants to just because
that person can't hear it themselves?

This is probably not appropriate for many of you. I had the impression,
though, that this sort of thing would be useful towards full inclusion of
accessible web design by the visually impaired for the person who initially asked
(sorry, I don't remember who you are).

Further, as a low vision individual myself, as well as not knowing very much
about colors (in spite of my above descriptions), I was truly wishing that
there was a good web site that lists colors in such groups. That is, stating
which colors are warm, cool, etc.

I had found a book or two that explained some of this about colors, but was
really wishing for a chart to this effect or similar info available on the web
for blind students to access via assistive technology. It wouldn't be an exact
science, certainly, but would likely be at least somewhat helpful. In other
words, can purple and peach be used together, and also, which color
combinations may represent specific groups or present subconscious messages or insults to
various cultures? Artists and graphic designers learn this from somewhere and
I would love to have it available to web designers.

I hope this is helpful to some of you, and that others either know of such