Many businesses are unaware of the issues which affect them if they don’t cater to the needs of their colour blind customers and employees.
Business understands marginal gains can be the difference between success and failure because it’s the marginal gains which help them to get ahead of their competitors. Successful businesses go out of their way to make the most of opportunities when new ideas come along or when they realise they may have been missing a trick. Addressing the needs of colour blind customers is one way smart businesses can improve marginal gains because it’s an issue which affects at least 5% of customers (and substantially more if the business is tailored towards males e.g. football/motorsport) and it is staggering that businesses have been slow to recognise this.
Over the last few decades people with colour blindness have been left behind in the race for progress in a digital world. Colour as a marketing tool has become ever more powerful, but your business’s main selling place, its website, won’t attract colour blind people if you don’t understand their needs. Instead it will probably turn them away.
Your business could be retail, aviation, financial services, manufacturing, marketing or virtually any industry, but whatever your type of business it will need to communicate with people effectively. Any information provided by colour alone can potentially alienate people with colour blindness, so your business needs to be clever if it wants to attract new customers and keep existing ones. It’s no good spending thousands of pounds creating a fancy financial report if one in 12 men can’t read your pie charts – those people will just go elsewhere and throw your expensive report in the bin.
To understand how your business can attract and retain colour blind customers start by reading our simple two-page document Creating a colour blind friendly retail experience. See also our Retailers page.
Employees, visitors and customers?
Your businesses isn’t just about attracting new business – what about your colour blind employees and visitors?
Not only should businesses be more aware that a substantial amount of what they produce (their pitch for new business, their documents or products) may be difficult for colour blind people to fully access, but they also need to ensure they aren’t discriminating either. Might your business be inadvertently discriminating against your customers and your own employees? For example, if your business relies on colour-coded spreadsheets for internal reporting, you may want to reconsider your internal reporting procedures. See Documents and Presentations below. Many such challenges can have simple and inexpensive solutions. Is your HR team aware of Employment Tribunal caselaw which has found in favour of colour blind employees on grounds of indirect sexual discrimination arising from colour blindness problems?
Does your business operate machinery and/or rely upon machinery and technology including safety control features? Do you have control protocols in place to ensure colour blind staff can’t inadvertently make mistakes? Have you assessed your emergency equipment and procedures to check whether your premises are safe for colour blind staff and visitors?
Some industries are already making changes – see the Property Industry case study where you can also read about how Ordnance Survey introduced colour-blind ‘friendly’ online mapping to ensure not only that their products are more accessible to the colour blind but also to ensure that they operate safely and minimise their exposure to litigation on grounds of discrimination.
Seizing the initiative – don’t rush in and rely on colour blind staff to help your business on the cheap!
Our research at Colour Blind Awareness has shown that some businesses have already taken the initiative to instigate changes but, unlike Ordnance Survey (which invested in proper research and testing), many rely upon their own colour blind employees to advise them. Whilst this is a great start, it’s really important to be aware that there are several different types of colour blindness and a colour blind employee can only advise on their own type (unless they have had proper training). We know of some very expensive mistakes which have been made due to this lack of knowledge.
Designers (and web designers in particular) are often not aware of how inaccessible certain colour combinations can be to people with colour blindness. Although the internationally recognised AA and AAA rating standards advised by the World Wide Web Consortium are recognised by the UK government the EU and the USA, many businesses don’t know about them. For more information see the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)2.1. These guidelines are updated and will shortly be replaced by WCAG2.2. As a minimum, digital information including websites, should be designed to the W3C AA rating to ensure people with colour blindness are not excluded from information.
Common problems with websites include
- invisible links
- challenges in trying to buy tickets or merchandise because information is given in colour only
- inability to read text because of insufficient contrast between text and background colour e.g. white text on a yellow background
- inability to buy products due to lack of accessible information about the colour of the product, either due to information being given only in colour (and no explanatory text) or because of poor colour information e.g. a shirt is labelled ‘crimson’, ‘coral’, ‘olive’ ‘stone’ or other colour names which mean nothing to people with CVD. Colour blind people want a simple colour name to describe an article. Not providing this can be the difference between a purchase being made or clicking off your website and not returning. See Why Menswear Needs a Note of Colour
Documents and Presentations
The document extract in the images below demonstrate how lack of awareness of colour blindness can mean that important information produced within company websites, financial reports, presentations etc can be lost to people with even a mild form of colour blindness because they can’t work out, for example, which is the red and which is the orange segment of the pie chart?
Many colour blind people admit to often being unsure of information presented in some colour formats especially presentations. A former Property Director of a major retail plc, for example, told us he would never speak up in presentations to ask for explanations of information which was unclear due to poor choice of colours. He said that he had never done this because he is embarrassed about his colour problems and does not want to draw attention to himself. He admitted that he might occasionally decide to overlook some information rather than draw attention to himself. He also recognised that there must be situations where he is not even aware that he has missed out on important information.
Your colour blind employees and customers/investors and other stakeholders will face similar exclusion from your outputs if you don’t ensure information is created in an accessible way.
Further information and advice
In addition to the wide ranging consultancy advice we provide to education and to major sporting organisations, we also provide consultancy services to other businesses, including:-
- Suitable colour choices for
– design and marketing materials
– corporate documentation
– educational products and toys
- Discrimination issues
- Company employment policy
For further information please contact Colour Blind Awareness by email at [email protected] or see the contact details in the About Us section. Please note that Colour Blind Awareness is a non-profit organisation (rather than a charity) and we are non-funded, therefore we will need to charge a consultancy fee for any advice we provide. If you are based in the UK we will normally deliver our advice through our consulting arm, Colour Blind Awareness (Consulting) Ltd.
Want to know more?
The following articles provide more information on the implications of colour blindness for designers of data visualisation, packaging and technology designs.
A Designer’s Life With Color Vision Deficiency is a great summary of what it’s like to live and work with colour blindness and as well as explaining how valuable colour blind people are in the workplace, there are some great tips and tools to help ensure your business is as accessible as possible to everyone with CVD whether your clients/customers or your employees.
Blog from Beacon Dodsworth on the frustrations of trying to understand inaccessible charts from the Covid-19 pandemic “Charts with lots of different-coloured wiggly lines tell us when we can expect to die. CB folk can’t work out what their chances are because so many of the lines are similar colours” and other great insights into how to ensure maps and data are more accessible Data Visualisation and Colour Blindness
The London School of Economics Impact blog on the importance of accessible design for data visualisation
Packaging Europe’s article on how Our Packaging is Failing Colour Blind Customers
The Wall Street Journal’s Colorblind Users Push Technology Designers To Use Signals Beyond Color
The Health and Safety Executive have produced guides for employers needing to ascertain whether colour vision is critical or significant to the tasks they require their employees to undertake, The HSE can also advise employers how to ensure their premises are suitably coded to permit colour blind employees to work in a safe environment. See www.hse.gov.uk