Contrast and Color

About Color

Although many people with low vision can also experience decreased color perception, it is still possible to use color to enhance independence, safety, and accessibility.

Keep the following color principles in mind as you evaluate your home:

  • Bright colors are generally the easiest to see because of their ability to reflect light.
  • Solid, bright colors like red, orange, and yellow are usually more visible than pastels.
  • Lighting can influence the perception of color: Dim light can “wash out” some colors, while bright light can intensify others.

Also, keep in mind that distinguishing colors within each of the following groups may be more difficult for some individuals who have low vision:

  • navy blue, brown, and black
  • blue, green, and purple
  • pink, yellow, and pale green

Color can also provide important safety cues:

stairs showing with white tape against dark color. white railing against white wall versus red railing against white wall
Stairs with Good and Bad Contrast
  • An indicator of change in surface or level, such as ramps or stairs
  • A warning for potential hazards, such as doors or cabinets that have been left ajar
  • A means of color-coding household files, documents, and bills.

Here are some general color modifications for you to consider:

  • When creating or coding household files, use Post-It notes in fluorescent colors, brightly colored stickers or paper clips, or brightly colored fluorescent markers.
  • Mark cabinets and the edges of doors with brightly colored fluorescent tape to make them easier to detect when open.
  • Mark a specific chair, table, desk, or work space with bright fluorescent paint or tape, a brightly colored chair cushion, or a bright red or orange ribbon to help locate a particular location or activity.
  • Drape a towel or an afghan in a contrasting color over the back of your favorite armchair.
  • For more specific suggestions about using color when modifying your home, see Redesigning Your Home: Room by Room.

About Contrast

Contrast sensitivity refers to the ability to detect differences between light and dark areas; therefore, if you have low vision, increasing the contrast between an object and its background will generally make the object more visible. Enhancing contrast is one of the simplest, least expensive, and most effective home modifications you can implement.

Keep the following contrast principles in mind as you evaluate your home:

  • White or bright yellow objects or print against a black background usually provide the most substantial color contrast.
  • Use solid colors as backgrounds to make objects “stand out.” Avoid the use of patterns, prints, or stripes.
  • Place light-colored objects against darker backgrounds. A white sheet of paper is more visible against a brown desktop or dark blotter.
  • Avoid using clear glass cups and dishes because they are usually more difficult to see.
  • Place dark objects against lighter backgrounds. A dark chair will stand out better against white or cream-colored walls.

Here are some general contrast modifications for you to consider:

White Light Switch on Dark Cover
White Light Switch on Dark Cover
  • Paint doors, doorknobs, and door frames in bright colors to increase their visibility. Ensure the color contrasts with the door hardware, wall, or other background.
  • Paint baseboards in a solid color that contrasts with walls and floor coverings.
  • Use a contrasting placemat under your dinner plate to help you see the edge of the plate.
  • Use solid non-patterned floor coverings (carpet, tile, or linoleum) that emphasize the boundary between the wall and the floor. Try to avoid using patterned carpets, especially on steps and stairs.
  • Install outlet and switch plates contrasting with walls, floors, and baseboards. Illuminated light switches can provide good contrast in a darkened room.
  • Place dark objects against lighter backgrounds, or vice versa. For example, a pale green chair could “disappear” against a yellow wall; instead, try covering the chair with a solid, brightly colored slipcover or towel to create contrast and make it “stand out.”

By Maureen A. Duffy, M.S., CVRT

Suggestions for Enhancing Visual Contrast Video