Colour contrasts in buildings – designing (badly) for the visually impaired

One of the things that we look for when we are carrying out an access audit is the colour contrast between building elements – for instance walls and floors – which if done well can make a significant difference to the usability of a building by the visually impaired. It extends to other areas such as doors and you are probably familiar with a contrasted stair nosing – provided to make it clear where the edge of the step is. In fact, you may well find these features a benefit even with good eyesight.

So, you can imagine what we felt when we saw the wall of doors in this photograph.

image of multi-coloured doors
Multi-coloured doors cause access issue.

This is a modern building finished within the last five years and the interpretation of the colour contrast was extreme. In fact the occupiers and their property managers though they had got it absolutely right, and in some ways they have. Each panel is clearly contrasted form the other. The problem is that one of these doors is the accessible WC, one the ambulant WC, one an access into the next room and the others storage cupboards or fixed panels over a riser. Can you tell which is which? No. Nor could we. And the occupiers even had trouble remembering that the accessible WC was through the green door.

So we recommended a clear contrast band between colours – black architraves, and clear large contrasted signage in a sans serif typeface and clear contrasting door ironmongery.

(Originally published by Steve Way, 13 February 2011)