CPD 6 2018: Designing with color for the visually impaired (2023)

When it comes to the interior design of a home, office, or public space, color can be a powerful tool in helping people find their way around more easily, especially those with vision problems. Our latest CPD, sponsored by Dulux Trade, examines why color matters when it comes to inclusive design and meeting Equality Act requirements.



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CPD 6 2018: Designing with color for the visually impaired (2)

CPD 6 2018: Designing with color for the visually impaired (3)


The choice of color is important for all users, but especially for those with low vision. The way people enter, use and enjoy a space can really make a difference and, for the visually impaired, is certainly an important design outcome that will be judged by a building's occupants.

For the visually impaired, it is more than just subjective. It affects how successfully a person navigates a building: hallways, doorways, stairs, or simply transitioning from one room to another are current challenges. However, a smart color scheme can make a real difference. It can improve self-confidence and increase independence.

When a true understanding of design is applied, an environment can be created that meets the needs of the visually impaired while maintaining an appealing aesthetic.

Why color and contrast are so important

Sight is our most important sense: three quarters of the information about our environment is obtained through sight. However, there are over 80 different types of eye disease and around two million people in the UK live with some form of visual impairment. And as the UK population ages, the number of vision impaired people in the UK will increase dramatically over the next 25 years.

For these reasons, it is becoming increasingly important in the interior design process to understand how occupants use a space and the powerful impact color design decisions have on the success of a building.

When choosing colors, it's always a good idea to compare them side by side against the same background. Because what we perceive as color depends on many different factors. These include light, contrast, surface finish, and subjective considerations.

For example, 96% of the blind in the UK can see some light. Therefore, it is important to make the most of lighting and contrast design to improve people's spatial awareness and help them use their residual vision to orient themselves in buildings.

When entering a room, most people look around to understand the area they have entered. People with good eyesight usually do this right away. However, visually impaired people often stop to gather information about the room or to adjust to a change in lighting. They typically first try to see visual contrast at the wall or ceiling junction, often the least crowded area of ​​a room, to identify a change in finish or feature. As they begin to move, they focus their vision up to 2 m and scan the area in front of them for contrast between features.

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CPD 6 2018: Designing with color for the visually impaired (4)

So an obvious answer for those with limited color knowledge might be to maximize color and contrast between different objects by using, for example, black, white, and yellow, as shown below. However, this results in an environment that is unacceptable to an interior designer, and also unappealing to the full view user of the building.

Interior appeal: color scheme for the visually impaired

Dulux Trade carried out research with the RNIB, Guide Dogs for the Blind and the University of Reading to explore how color can help visually impaired people find their way around a building as easily as possible.

The survey found that more than 80% of visually impaired people can distinguish color differences, and that more subtle contrasts can be used, as long as factors such as illuminance and, especially, where the contrast is used, are taken into account.

This makes getting around much easier; Help visually impaired people use an environment safely and independently whenever possible, without creating environments that are unacceptable to people with full vision, detracting from the design, or limiting design creativity.

As well as allowing greater design flexibility, this has also led to the development of design guidelines for visual contrasts, which are detailed in the following building legislation.

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The Equality Act entered into force on October 1, 2010, harmonizing existing provisions into a single simplified Equality Legislation framework and replacing the previous Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) of 1995. The Equality Act requires that into account the specific needs that arise. likely to be the users of the building that can reasonably be met. Minimum requirements to ensure that a wide range of people can enter and use the facilities within buildings have been included in Part M of the Building Regulations (BS8300).

Part M requires a minimum difference in light reflectance value (LRV) between two adjacent surfaces of 30 points for new construction and major renovation projects; Building Standards Part M (BS8300) states that this is best practice for all buildings.

CPD 6 2018: Designing with color for the visually impaired (5)

The LRV is a 100-point scale that expresses the percentage of light reflected by a surface, where 0 is black and 100 is white. Light reflectance is considered more important than hue in visual contrast, as many visually impaired people find it difficult to distinguish between surfaces of different hue.

Providing visual contrast is not a legal requirement, but a building is unlikely to be accepted by the Building Inspectorate if it does not meet the relevant standards. In addition, Building Standards Part M (BS8300) only gives guidance on the degree of visual contrast, not on the composition of color schemes.

Achieve color and contrast successfully

The reflection of light is only one of the three aspects of color that are perceived by the eye. Notation schemes such as the Dulux Trade Color Palette can also provide effective color schemes in accordance with Part M (BS8300) construction standards, taking into account other aspects such as chroma and hue.

  • Hue: This is the color family; Within each hue is a scale from 00 to 99 that indicates the color's position within the hue on the color wheel (see image below).
  • Chroma - this is the intensity of the color. A three-digit number on a scale from 000 to 999 represents color saturation. The higher the number, the more intense the color, but the maximum chroma also depends on the hue; for example, yellow has a very high maximum chroma, while for blue the maximum chroma is much lower.

Notation schemes show that by adjusting hue or chroma, complementary schemes can be created that still provide at least 30pt LRV contrast.

CPD 6 2018: Designing with color for the visually impaired (6)

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Key color schemes include:


This is effectively using lighter and darker shades of the same color. The tone schemes are usually simple and classic.


A harmonious scheme consists of two or more colors juxtaposed on the artist's color wheel. Harmonic schemes tend to be interesting and versatile.


A contrast scheme uses opposite colors on the artist's color wheel. Contrasting patterns create an exciting and dramatic look.

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Creation of color contrasts for critical surfaces

The key areas where designers need to create color contrast are on critical surfaces – for the visually impaired, these are the most important elements when measuring a space, gathering information and understanding a space in terms of its dimensions and size. .

These surfaces include doors, baseboards, obstructions, and general furniture and lighting.


Whenever possible, the entire door and frame should visually contrast with the surrounding surfaces.

The front edge of the door should contrast with the wall it opens onto, while the rest of the door, handles, and handle panels should be a sufficiently different color from the door. However, dedicated doors that are not identifiable by humans, such as doors to maintenance areas or restricted work areas, may have a similar color to the adjacent wall.


Recognizing the connection between the wall and the floor is important for people with visual impairments when moving around, and both the depth of the skirting board and its visual contrast to the wall or floor can influence their decisions.

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For example, if a baseboard is the same color as the wall, there will be a visual contrast between the bottom of the baseboard and the floor. This gives an accurate indication of the size of the flat. However, if it's a similar color to the floor, the focus will be on top of the baseboard and wall, making the room appear wider than it actually is.

With shallow skirting boards (100mm deep or less) this is normally not critical, but with deeper skirting boards it can have a major impact on the safety and confidence of visually impaired people in smaller rooms or hallways.

Designers should also avoid colored baseboards that sit between those on the wall and the floor.

General and moving obstacles

Obstacles such as radiators are dangerous and can cause burns if a visually impaired person cannot see them.

Other obstacles, such as stairs, should be considered with solid colored bumps that contrast with the color of the stairs. Also, the color of the handrail must be sufficiently different from the color of the supporting wall.

Turning on

Poor lighting can also detract from color and contrast, defeating the purpose of creating a proper scheme in the first place. In many interior spaces, lighting conditions can create reflections and shadows that add interest to a space, but can also create an environment in which the visually impaired may feel uncomfortable. The recommended minimum general lighting level at ground level is 100 lux.

How to create compatible color schemes

To help planners maximize the inclusion and use of a space by creating color schemes that are aesthetically pleasing and conform to the visual contrast guidelines set forth in the Equality Act Approved Document for Part M ( ADM), manufacturers use tools such as the Dulux Design Guide for handle color and contrast.

This tool uses color and contrast to maximum effect and can improve spatial awareness and navigation, especially for the visually impaired, helping to identify key building features and helping to ensure safety.

CPD 6 2018: Designing with color for the visually impaired (8)

Get the best result for space beyond color

While color and contrast are important to creating a successful system for the visually impaired, there are other considerations when specifying color that can have a profound impact on how an environment performs and the level to which it should be maintained.

Maximize durability and performance

Some products can last longer due to their superior hardness and abrasion resistance. As a result, maintenance cycles can often be extended. These products are recommended for buildings that are exposed to heavy traffic or require regular deep cleaning.

In addition, an anti-mold fungicidal paint is ideal for areas that can get wet, such as gardens. bathroom and actively inhibits mold growth and reduces future maintenance.

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CPD 6 2018: Designing with color for the visually impaired (9)

A sustainable approach to color specification

The sustainability of a paint, from how it's made, how much is needed, and how it performs once applied, is another important consideration for planners.

To minimize environmental impact, paint products that contain less volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and embedded carbon should be considered. This improves indoor air quality, reduces odors, and allows residents to move faster. Therefore, low VOC products, such as water-based paints, should be considered in comparison to high-VOC products, such as solvent-based paints.

With the latest advances in formulation technology, manufacturers now strongly recommend that water-based paints be used for finishing areas such as doors, skirting boards and window frames wherever possible.

Also from an environmental point of view, it can be beneficial to choose colors that meet the BREEAM, SKA or even WELL Building Standard™ classification.

Choosing a higher performing product without compromising coverage means going the extra mile. As a result, products with fewer coats of paint or higher yields allow for a lower consumption of raw materials and therefore resources per m.2.

Additional protection and prevention benefits

The specification of certain areas, eg corridors and escape routes in social housing, will include due diligence with regard to fire resistance. Fire retardant enhanced paints can be applied to existing painted walls and ceilings to retard the spread of flames and reduce flashover.

Healthcare settings would benefit from coatings that contain a bactericide in the film that inhibits bacteria and reduces MRSA and E. coli populations. They are available in a wide range of colors and allow for a design that meets both functional and aesthetic requirements.

CPD 6 2018: Designing with color for the visually impaired (10)

How do I make this module?

Assemble Media Group's CPD distance learning program is open to anyone wishing to further develop their knowledge and skills. Each module also offers members of professional institutions the opportunity to purchase between 30 and 90 credit minutes towards their annual CPD requirements.

This article is accredited by the CPD Certification Service. To earn CPD credits, please read the article and click the link below to fill out your information and answer the questions. You will receive your results immediately, and if all questions are answered correctly, you will be able to download your CPD certificate immediately.



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