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One of the roles I have on my team is to make plots and graphs display data and the latest test results.

Over the past few years I have become increasingly aware of the use of colourblind-friendly palettes that make viewing the images I produce easier for everyone. I have started using them as much as I can for my work as a habit.

Our team is relatively small (less than 10 people), and for a couple of my most recent plots I have had difficulty finding a colourblind-friendly palette that works due to the complexity of the data and number of colours required. It would be easier for me to just ask if anyone needs any accommodations in this regard and their specific type of colourblindness so that I can make plots that accommodate them specifically.

Since this is their medical information, I'm hesitant to ask anything I'm not supposed to. At the same time it is also relevant to my work. I was thinking about sending an email to the team basically saying 'if you need any accommodations for colourblindness in the plots I make, you're welcome to let me know directly' or similar, but I don't know if that's OK to do.

Can I ask? and if so, is that a good way to do so?

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    "It would be easier for me to just ask if anyone needs any accommodations in this regard and their specific type of colourblindness so that I can make plots that accommodate them specifically." Are you in position to make that change unilaterally, as in decide to not make them accessible anymore without asking your boss etc?
    – Aida Paul
    Nov 10, 2023 at 8:55
  • @TymoteuszPaul There has been no requirement for me to make my plots colourblind friendly; it's never been discussed. So yes if I did change it I'm sure no one would notice. There's a way to do it while it still looks 'normal' for everyone else. It's just more work. My situation is complicated by the fact that my team is currently boss-less (the boss left a couple months ago) and we manage ourselves well enough that he hasn't been replaced. The next boss up is the cto.
    – stanri
    Nov 10, 2023 at 8:58
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    @stanri Ok, so one more question, while I understand that it's more work to keep making your work accessible, is that a bad thing? You are gaining great experience, and also making the world a better place (having to ask to be accommodated can be very dauting and weird, seeing your needs accounted for as default is amazing), something you can easily then show off as big plus in your CV. Why not keep doing that? Is it putting deadlines in jeopardy?
    – Aida Paul
    Nov 10, 2023 at 9:03
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    I'm colorblind, and I always love it when it's taken into account, making my life easier. Often it doesn't take much, like use red/blue instead of the typical red/green for bad/good, high/low etc. - so, I definitely recommend continuing making your work colorblind accessible. It definitely sends a good signal. And if a few parts of your work isn't 100% accessible, it will probably be fine, considering that most content we encounter every day is not made with accessibility in mind and we still manage (though I often need my colorblind-pal app to determine colors I can't see properly).
    – Gertsen
    Nov 10, 2023 at 11:11
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    Color-blindness is also not just one thing. You can have different ranges of blindness and also to different colors, so there is no such thing as a "color-blindness palette" because it's different depending on which type of color blindness it is...
    – Nelson
    Nov 11, 2023 at 4:54

5 Answers 5

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I was thinking about sending an email to the team basically saying 'if you need any accommodations for colourblindness in the plots I make, you're welcome to let me know directly' or similar, but I don't know if that's OK to do.

Can I ask? and if so, is that a good way to do so?

Don't ask about the team's colourblindness. Ask about the need for a specialized palette.

Something like "I'm having trouble finding a colourblind-friendly palette due to xxxx. Should I keep trying, or give up?" might work.

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Can I ask? and if so, is that a good way to do so?

There is no good way to ask because any way you shape it you will end up calling out "hey, is anyone here colorblind" forcing the hypothetical person to either out themselves or pretend they are not. Neither is a good outcome.

Importantly you've provided a lot of good information in the comments:

My situation is complicated by the fact that my team is currently boss-less

I am not sure how does that work, surely there is SOMEONE responsible for the team? And that's the person I would delegate the question to and state it as you've said:

I'm finding it's taking a bit longer for some of the complicated plots because there's lots of colours, etc. Since it's not 'official' part of my work I don't want to be wasting time doing something I don't necessarily need to be doing.

While that's not a stance I would take, as this just make you look like wanting to do the bare minimum, that is the outcome you want.

Personally I would continue working with the accessible graphics as it's a skill that's in high demand and experience that will easily make you stand out in sea of candidates if it's ever needed. And as someone who suffers from disabilities, having to ask for adjustments can be daunting and risky, as you do have to out yourself just to be able to perform your day to day duties. Having systems in place to accommodate that removes a lot of that stress from the person needing such accommodations. It's just there, ready, and part of the culture that whatever we create, we think about those with accessibility needs.

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I would pose this question by not asking for colorblindness directly, but instead by asking:

I am not sure if my presentation is readable for colorblind people. Is anyone of you qualified to help me with that and has time?

This offers the opportunity for any colorblind people who are eager to help and not embarrassed of their condition to say "Of course I am qualified, I am actually colorblind myself". Or if they don't want to out themselves, they can just respond "I have some knowledge of how to design for colorblind people, so maybe I can help". Which doesn't imply that they are colorblind, as they could have obtained that knowledge through studying. Or not respond at all. After all, not responding to this email doesn't mean lying about being color-blind. It could just as well mean they don't feel qualified or don't have time.

By the way, color blindness is anything but uncommon. 8% of all people with y-chromosomes have red/green color blindness.

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  • I see where you are coming from, but this doesn't really answer op's question. It's a way to get help to design for coloblind, which doesn't really require being one at all, it's part of any good design courses.
    – Aida Paul
    Nov 10, 2023 at 14:24
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I don't know what the current rules might be. Back in the Dark Ages, MIL-STD-1472 "Defense Systems Human Factors" (or some such) allowed the designer to assume that a system would only be used by soldiers, for whom normal color vision was required.

Nowadays, those systems may be used by non-soldiers, and allowances must be made for the real possibility that some users may be color-blind in various ways. As a direct result, the standard has evolved.

The US DoD has a very good incentive to get this kind of thing right: people may die if they don't.

Start with full compliance with the requirements of MIL-STD-1472, latest version. It may not solve all of the problems, but it will cover a lot of them, and you will find it interesting reading on other topics.

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  • This isn't answering OPs question. There are well aware of the complexities of making something that works for all kinds of possible color blindness. Precisely because this is so complicated they wher hoping to adress only the specific problems that exist in their target audience.
    – quarague
    Nov 12, 2023 at 7:25
  • @quarague OK, fine, I won't point out that it is very easy to make a case that MIL-STD-1472, latest version, compliance is an obvious Best Practice in Human Factors/human interface design. Nov 12, 2023 at 16:22
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If no one has mentioned or requested an accommodation I advise against asking if anyone needs an accommodation. Besides the medical privacy concerns this might raise (as you mentioned), it also feels like inventing the need for a solution to a problem that does not exist yet.

If someone does need an accommodation but has not asked, you cannot find yourself responsible for mind-reading and trying to accommodate silence. It is very easy to complicate situations out of kindness trying to offset a perceived problem before the problem presents itself.

In the workplace I say don't worry about it unless the problem we seek to prevent is something with disastrous personnel or monetary complications if not proactively addressed; and in that case, it's likely something that needs a group discussion.

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