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In most operating systems and on some websites there is a high contrast mode, intended for use by visually impaired people. I have doubts, however, whether using such mode makes any sense - from what I know, such people usually decrease their screen resolution to make everything bigger. I don't know anyone that would really use the high contrast mode.

high contrast theme on linux

For me it appears as hardly readable and far from "easy to use". There are (almost) no colors! Is there any rationale behind it? Do you know anyone that uses this mode?

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How about a room that is intentionally dark or at least darker, such as industrial, laboratory or factory environment where high light emission is distracting and straining, or screens are on 24/7. Compare with a satnav night setting, for example. – Roger Attrill Oct 19 '12 at 7:35
See also which might even be a duplicate reall – Ben Brocka Oct 19 '12 at 12:29

12 Answers 12

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Yes, the high contrast works very well, the problem is that many interfaces are poorly designed and the high contrast is just too little help to overcome the design flaws and sometimes works against the user.

A typical problem is the font used for menus and texts, is very common that the font used is not really good for screen and that it was designed for printing, or the size is too small. To that you may think that you can increase the size of the fonts or decrease resolution; well, that works, kinda, lowering the resolution, usually is in big steps, and is common to loose big parts of the interface outside the window and the scrolling back and forth doesn't help. Increasing the font, is usually a better solution, but again, some fonts don't scale well.

Other problem is white space; when you use high contrast, you should increase the space between features, like borders, decorations, icons, etc.

Finally, high contrast is good, but exactly opposites are bad, changing the typical black over white to the opposite is a terrible idea and I've seen that a few times.

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The rationale on high contrast is just that - high contrast. People with weak eyesight can more easily distinguish between elements and read the text if there is a well-designed black and white theme. Usually this also comes with the option to enlarge text and elements.

Sites with low contrast can be difficult to read for people with low vision. Some poorly designed sites on the web have bad color combinations such as blue links on black backgrounds, red text on green backgrounds, or other combinations that are not easy on the eyes for anyone, but especially not for people with low vision. There's no hard rule as to how much contrast is enough, but use your best judgment. However, it's usually not too difficult to tell when color combinations do not contrast adequately.

Reference: WebAIM Visual Disabilities

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Short answer: Yes

Long answer...

There are many different kinds of visual disability. Some, for example cataracts and diabetic retinopathy, are greatly aided by increasing contrast.

It doesn't help you because - well - you presumably have good vision. Imagine that you're staring at the screen through translucent plastic. Increasing contrast makes the edge detection much simpler.

Magnifiers deal with different issues (poor focus, blocks in the visual field, etc.). Contrast deals with others. Some folk will want both.

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Suffering from cataracts myself, I can assure you from myself, as well as others, that white or very light text on black is much more efficient for us. The research is there as well if you research low vision disorders. It all had to do with the amount of bright white light.

There are some screens on some programs where there is so much white, all we see is glare. Sometimes this even makes it tough for us to spot the mouse much less text, even using an inverted pointer type.

I use high contrast black for most of my work on the PC, using white text or bright cyan. Otherwise I can't focus or see anything sue to the glare of a white or light background.

I'm also an avid gamer, and this presents even more problems, as I need to switch from HC back to a regular theme to run games properly and at the correct resolution. If the text and UI are black with light text, then I have no problems, otherwise I have to find a way to make the UI's larger and more legible to compensate for glare. Color or profile choices for individual users would be a great option.

As far as web browsing goes, I use a wonderful little extension for Chrome and Opera called Deluminate. It has various one-click settings to apply HC black to websites, as well as a "Smart Invert images" and "Keep images normal" setting. It works better than anything I've tried yet, but still has some problems with a random completely incompatible website now and then. It then gives you a slider for those sites to simply lower the contrast on the white page.

Glare and bright whites seems to be the biggest problem for those with low vision disorders like mine.

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Well, i tend to use high contrast mode a lot of times. Although, i use it in "night". To me it's almost like "night mode". But the problem is that many a times the high contrast can't overrun bad design. Currently i use high contrast on windows 7 to limit ram usage bcoz of "dwm.exe". :D

P.S. - I seem to believe that "Solarize" is the best effect to effectively remove "white" from the UI.

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I'm using high contrast because I spend a lot of my time on the computer using my eyes and by the end of the night they often feel very tired and sometimes they start to hurt a little and since I've switched to high contrast earlier today I've definitely felt a difference in my "eye strain" so my eyes definitely feel better after having spent so much time on the computer. :)

I also just read that it limits RAM usage, I had completely forgotten about that, thanks for sharing that information with us.

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You can just provide an optimal contrast on the default layout of your interface. Also because a visual impaired user could have some difficulties in scan and find the high contrast icon.

So you don't need a high contrast version. You should simply test the colours of text against the background (you can find many useful color pickers tools). Bear in mind that the optimal contrast ratio for legibility is 4.5:1 for paragraphs and text with little body and at least 3:1 ratio for large-scale text.

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Or optimally, you could simply let the users choose their own preferred colors, and avoid things like hardcoding text forground color as black or dark blue, while letting background be user-selectable, or picked up from the OS. Personally, I like something close to that high-contrast example, but tastes differ, so why not accomodate them? – jamesqf Jun 5 at 19:49

My son, who is almost 5, has no visual problems but does have autism. He insists on having high-contrast mode for all his web activities and YouTube viewing. I didn't know it existed on the computer, but he found it, and every time I turn it off for my own use, he immediately turns it back on.

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As a pro sound engineer, I switch my desk monitors to a high contrast setting in situations where there is limited room for equipment offstage, or foh. Many times bright white screens (over-illuminate) if you will areas that need to be dark sensitive. So for me yellow/blue on black high contrast solves this problem.

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As many other people have mentioned, high contrast does not translate well and usually forces people to modify programs, switch between regular modes and high contrast, or just deal with the odd items that pop up.

Personally, I have started using high contrast since I work in engineering and I am staring at a computer screen for most of the day. White background with black text works well when you are staring at paper, but when you look at a monitor it isn't the same. You are effectively staring into a lamp. This alone makes my eyes tired.

So I use the high contrast to get most of the colors on the screen to remove a lot of the white from my screen. If there is something that I can't get around I will change back to a regular theme temporarily.

It might seem strange, but that's my take on it at least.

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As a person with low vision affected by glare, I find high contrast white on black so much easier on the eyes! The only time I switch back is to use apps that do not conform and end up hiding text with black on black.

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Welcome to the site, @Don. At the moment, your post seems a bit anecdotal. Do you have any evidence to support your claim that white text on black is easier on the eyes for people other than yourself? – Graham Herrli May 7 at 21:01

High Constract Black is so much better on my eyes and I am using Microsoft Word. Removing the glare from the screen and seeing a black background with white writing is much easier on my eyes. I can feel it straight away. When I revert to the normal screens the glare is annoying. Try it and if you like it, use it. Working under florescence light is better in high constrast black. I look at computer screens all day.

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