Android Accessibility: Part 4 of 4 – "Color and Theme Settings"

This article originally appeared in the April 2023 edition of Inside Equal Access. 

By: Doug Flower

In last month’s edition of Inside Equal Access, I reviewed the first of two accessibility features of Android 13, Reduced Motion. In this month’s edition, I’d like to take a look at the second accessibility feature of Android-based devices and the fourth and final accessibility feature in this Tools of the Trade series, Color and Theme Settings. Let’s jump in!

Color and Theme Settings aren’t anything new – colors were considered an important part of GUI’s (graphical user interfaces) as far back as the late 80’s (A History of the GUI, Ars Technica). Back then, colors were bright, simple (having up to 16 different colors was a revolutionary feature), and almost certain to cause severe eye strain for anyone needing to stare at a screen for more than a few minutes at a time.

Today, a single pixel on your computer or mobile device can produce millions of different colors (Cambridge in Color). Apple and Windows operating systems come pre-packaged with various color themes that make the viewing experience on any screen easier, and these themes can be finely tuned and customized to make the screen viewing experience accessible to any user, especially those with limited vision or color blindness.

According to Colour Blind Awareness:

  • Approximately 1 in 12 men (8%) are affected by color blindness
  • Approximately 1 in 200 women (0.5%) are affected by color blindness
  • Worldwide, there are estimated to be about 300 million people with color blindness
  • Although most people who are color blind only have trouble seeing certain colors or color combinations, in extremely rare cases, some people are unable to see any color at all

Accessibility Feature #4 – Color and Theme Settings

So what kind of color and theme settings exist for mobile users?

There’s good news if you’re an Android phone user – Android 13 comes with several impressive color settings to help those experiencing color blindness or those that just want to get better contrast out of their phone. According to the article “Android 13: The top accessibility features” by Android Police, these settings include:

  • Color correction: Color correction is for those with color blindness. In this section, you can toggle color correction on and off. There are four color correction options: two for red-green, one for blue-yellow, and one for grayscale. A box at the top of the section shows a selection of colors, so you can see what each setting looks like. There is also an option to create a color correction shortcut if you want to toggle this feature on and off regularly.
  • Color inversion: Color inversion is a feature that may help those who need more contrast on their phone. It changes all white pixels to black pixels and all black pixels to white pixels on your screen. This changes the look of everything on the screen but may make it easier for some to see the contents on the screen.
  • Dark theme: Dark theme changes the whites in many apps to blacks or grays to reduce the amount of light emitted from your screen. This feature may be useful to those with photophobia or sensitivity to light.

Figure Caption: The color correction feature shown in the “Colour and motion” accessibility settings of Android 13. A graphic next to the setting shows how various colors will appear once the setting is turned on.

Color correction is arguably the most impressive of these features, as it enables users who experience color blindness to view differences in color more clearly. Although it’s a feature that existed in previous versions of the Android operating system, Android 13 adds a grayscale option, and the setting is easier to find and modify than it has been in the past.

And as someone who spends much of his day staring at computer and phone screens, I personally find the dark theme setting invaluable, as it significantly reduces the amount of eye strain I experience staring at these screens for prolonged periods of time. Just toggling on the dark theme once in the settings typically applies it to all of the other apps I use as well.

What Color and Theme Settings mean for accessibility

Is Your Red The Same as My Red? (YouTube Video, Vsauce, 9:34). The fascinating theory presented in this video suggests that the way you see or imagine the color red may be different than the way I see or imagine it. Colors that we think go well with one another or that are easy to interpret might not be the case for others, especially if they experience color blindness or sensitivity to light.

As designers, we need to ensure that the colors we choose for our content meet accessible contrast guidelines, and adapt to a user’s chosen theme preferences. When designing content, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are the colors I’ve chosen easy to read, especially for people who experience color blindness?
  • Are certain colors essential to understanding information?
  • Am I avoiding placing text against particularly busy or multi-colored backgrounds that may be difficult for some users to read?
  • Am I ensuring that a user’s theme settings won’t impact the way they’re able to read and understand content?

Please check out the following resources if you want to learn more about how you can design with accessible color combinations in mind:

This wraps up our Tools of the Trade series on mobile accessibility features, but please join back with us in the fall as we continue to explore how other accessibility features shape the way we use and think about technology.

If you have an idea for a Tools of the Trade accessibility segment or series – share it with us! We’d love to hear from you!

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POSTED: Tuesday, April 25, 2023 12:26 PM
Updated: Wednesday, October 4, 2023 02:24 PM
Doug Flower