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Making learning accessible: How does colour impact your learners?

Good use of colour can play an important part in conveying a message. But not everyone perceives colour in the same way. When making learning accessible, there are a few things you can do to make sure your message still comes across without compromising your use of colours.

A wheel of colour cards

Making learning accessible: What’s the challenge?

  • There are several forms of colour deficiency and colour blindness, and different colours will be perceived differently by different people.
  • It is estimated that around eight per cent of men and 0.5 per cent of women suffer from some form of colour deficiency.

Because of these factors, there are two issues that often arise in elearning: colour coding and contrast.

Making learning accessible: Colour coding

Colours often have associations, and they can be used to make a point more clearly. One example of colour coding is instructional designers using red crosses to indicate incorrect answers and green ticks to indicate correct answers.

For learners with colour deficiency or blindness, the ticks and crosses will appear to be shades of the same colours. However, as ticks and crosses are well recognised as indicators of correct and incorrect answers, this won’t be a serious issue as learners will be able to use the shape, rather than colour, of the icons to distinguish between choices.

On the other hand, if you were to use red circles to indicate incorrect choices and green circles to indicate correct choices, then these learners would no longer be able to distinguish between correct and incorrect choices. In this case, the symbols act as a fallback for those who do not see the colours the way they were intended.

Finally, colour associations can vary between cultures. If you’re designing learning that will be used by people from many parts of the world, be sure to check that your message won’t be misinterpreted.

Making learning accessible: Colour contrast

Good colour contrast ensures that text is easy to read on screen. For example, very pale text on a pale background is hard to read, as is dark text on a dark background. Dark text on a pale background or pale text on a dark background will be much easier.

Art directors creating a ‘look and feel’ for an elearning programme use a handy tool to check the colour contrast of art direction and ensure that it meets minimum guidelines.

For learners with visual impairments, or some types of dyslexia, colours that are normally contrasting may not be so easy to tell apart. In other cases, people may find their eyes tire more easily when reading. In these cases, placing specific coloured fonts against specific coloured backgrounds can help.

These font and background colour combinations probably wouldn’t be the first choice for a brand team a deciding on the look and feel for a course, and different colour combinations work best for different people. To accommodate this, try the following:

  • Use an ‘optimal’ colour combination fitting brands or styles as a default
  • Add alternative options to suit those with visual impairments

Below is an example of a colour contrast selector in an elearning course.

An example of a colour contrast selector, which is useful when making learning accessible

To see an example of this in action, take a look at these two screengrabs. The first shows the standard colour contrast for text in the programme, and the below shows the same screen with ‘High contrast inverted’ selected.

standard colour contrast for text

high colour contrast inverted

As you can see, for the majority of learners, the more unusual colour contrast settings would look jarring but, for a specific group, they are a real help.

One more thing to remember: colour contrast settings like the one previous can only be applied to what is known as ‘programmatic text’. This is text that is coded directly into the programme. They can’t be applied to any text that is part of an image file, such as a JPEG or PNG file, or any text embedded in an animation. Therefore, if you are aiming for a high level of accessibility, it is better to avoid embedding text into images without a readable alternative.

A final word on making learning accessible

If you’re developing accessible elearning, colour is an important consideration. You don’t need to make all your colour choices based on potential accessibility of your audience, but you do need to give your users visual and semantic alternatives to ensure they don’t miss out on what you’re trying to tell them.

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