Contrast

by Meryl K Evans | Category: Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech 2 comments

Because of my deafness, I rely on lipreading to listen. While I’ve worn hearing aids since I was a baby, I’ve always needed to read lips to “hear.” I do catch things from time to time without reading lips, especially a song I know by heart. I can follow it when I play it on my iPod.

ostrich Contrast

Photo from sxc.hu user doc_

Listening Contrast

But it’s harder to follow a song playing it on the computer when there’s background noise. One cool feature in hearing aids is the T-coil. It blocks out background sounds so you can hear during a telephone conversation. It also works the same way for headphones.

This morning, Paul (the spouse) comes to talk to me. He stands right where the shades behind me reflected on his face turning it into a striped one. Although I could see his lips, the stripes distract me that reading his lips is as reading the mouth of an ostrich. So I ask him to move over a little so his face falls between the two blinds shedding the stripe look.

If you compare my lipreading skills with and without hearing aids, you can tell when I’m not wearing hearing aids because it can take a few “Huhs?” and “Whats?” before I catch something. “My mom needs the mop,” can easily be “My mom’s knees pop.”

I listen better when there’s a strong contrast between the words, visuals and sounds. A lighting issue, too much background noise or no hearing aid can all interfere with the listening experience. Just like on websites with little contrast between the background and the text. Poor contrast creates a more difficult online reading experience.

Reading Contrast

Online content requires a different style of type than print does. What works in print doesn’t always work online and vice versa.

In newspapers and magazines, what color are most of the words? What color is the background? Black words on white backgrounds, right? You may see color on occasion like in the print edition of USA Today, but usually the paper uses it for section names (green for money, red for sports, etc.), graphs, photos and other visuals.

Then why have we seen a bad trend of sites using a variation of gray text on white backgrounds? There’s little contrast. I have excellent reading vision (for now!) and it strains my eyes to read this. What of those with not so great reading vision?

Maybe web designers think black on white is boring because it has been used for so long. The first websites from my first foray on the Internet in 1993 all used white backgrounds, black text and blue links. It worked well.

Gray text challenges our scanning abilities because we have to work harder to distinguish the gray from the white. This doesn’t mean to avoid gray on white altogether. Some gray — just like some italics — is okay, but not when they show up in lots of paragraphs.

Granted, I’d rather read gray on white than black on hot pink or blue on red (red does NOT make a good background for a lot of content). The key is to have enough contrast without harsh colors. I don’t follow some people back in Twitter because I can’t read their content. One person uses yellow for links on a white background. Couldn’t see them at all.

Do you struggle to read online content because of poor contrast? Why do you think many sites continue using gray on white? How does a light contrast between words and background affect your reading?

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