Denis Boudreau speaks about color blindness and accessibility

In this introductory episode of the A11y Rules Soundbite, Denis Boudreau speaks about color blindness and how it affects his day-to-day activities on the web.


Nic: Hi. I’m Nic Steenhout. You’re listening to the Accessibility Rules Soundbite. A series of short podcasts where people with disabilities explain their impairments and what barriers they encounter on the web.

Today I’m speaking with Denis Boudreau. Denis is an accessibility consultant. Good morning, Denis.

Denis: Good morning.

Nic: Now, I know you don’t necessarily define yourself as having a disability, but, I also know that you have what I would call a functional impairment. Can you tell us a little bit about what that is?

Denis: Well, yeah. I’m one of those people who are color blind, so, I do experience issues on a daily basis with perceiving information when it’s based on color only. That’s my challenge with the world in general. I don’t know if that entitles me to considering myself disabled or not, but, it certainly creates situations where I feel like I’m disabled or at least at a disadvantage when it comes to being able to understand the information that is around me.

Nic: It’s funny I was talking at Sunshine PHP this weekend and I was explaining to people the difference between an impairment and a disability and telling people that a disability really comes from interacting with a non-accessible society and I think from that perspective you definitely define as having a disability. Maybe you’re not paralyzed from the neck down and blind and deaf and all that at the same time, but, you do encounter barriers.

Denis: Yeah, well, the part that really fits is the part that I don’t perceive myself as having a disability, but, the environment around me disables me, regularly when I need to get to information and it’s based on color, for instance.

Nic: Tell me how your color blindness impacts your ability to function on the web.

Denis: So, I’m one of those people who have issue with distinguishing greens and reds. I’m part of the most common type of limitation when it comes to color perception. Basically what it does is, I’m easily going to miss links for instance and paragraphs of text, the billings aren’t underlined and the different of color between the link text and the surrounding text isn’t very obvious, at least to me.  I’m likely to miss those links. The only difference is the color itself and there isn’t any other visual affordances next to the link to sort of give me a idea of that thing might be a link. I may miss it altogether.

So that’s one area. Anytime that I work with graphs, for instance, data in either diagrams or graphs or whatnot, if it’s based on color alone again, I may have a really hard time distinguishing between the different data pieces. Any situation like that where basically the information that I’m looking at is conveyed on me through color chances are I won’t notice it or I won’t be able to distinguish which color is which. Often times you’ll have like a little legend next to your pie chart, for instance, and there will be a little swatch next to each of the data points and I’m supposed to match that one slice of that pie there, but I just can’t do that because I don’t know which is which. Those are examples of situations where I feel like I’m not in the best advantage as possible to do this.

Nic: How does that make you feel when it happens?

Denis: Depends on the days, I guess. Most days I’m sort of used to it because it’s been going on for quite a while. This is not new. I’ve grown used to having to cope with that and just move on for the most part. I would say that most days I don’t think about it much because of that, but, when I get into a situation where it’s actually very important that I get through what I need to do, then it becomes both frustrating and infuriating because if that prevents me from doing what I have to do then I have to rely on someone else to help me and that’s not always cool.

I mean, when you’re in a situation where you have to pick your clothes and you don’t know if the colors match, worst case scenario it’s going to be funny, but, when you need to, I don’t know, buy a ticket to go somewhere or purchase something that’s really important then you can’t quite do it because you don’t know if you’re really selecting the right product or the right option then it may create issues for me later down the road when I have to fix those things or try to fix those things after the fact.

Nic: Thank you. That gives us a bit of an idea of the impact of the web and color blindness on you. Is there anything else you’d like to tell our listeners about this?

Denis: Well, I guess the one thing that we may want to stress at this point when it comes to color blindness is the fact that this is not uncommon at all. Eight to 10% of males are color blind. You have one out of every 200 females that are color blind as well. So, it’s a pretty significant number of people that go through these issues on a daily basis and we have requirements in accessibility about color blindness, so, paying attention to color contrast is something that is definitely worth doing from a design standpoint.

It’s one of those things when you think about web design and web development, it’s one of those things that designers have complete control over and as soon as their mindful and aware of these things then they can make a huge difference in millions of people’s lives as they’re designing their content.

So, that’s the one thing I would say, really. Being mindful of those differences. We all know that accessibility is not only about blind people and screen readers, but, one group that is often forgotten is color blind people, just because we don’t fit in that particular typical persona disabled person or a person with a disability, so, yes.

I guess that would be the one thing I would say.

Nic: Wonderful. Thank you, Denis and have a good day.

Denis: Well, thank you. Thanks for having me. Have a great day.

Nic: Cheers. That’s it for now. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed this Accessibility Sound Bite please support the show at