Design Domination Podcast Episode #78: Color Blind by Design

Hear how Jake Albion pursued his passion of a creative career despite being told it might not be possible because of his color blindness, how he became more driven by his disability and turned it into an advantage, and how he got into accessibility.

Jake Albion.Jacob Albion of Albion.Digital, a web development business based in Fort Myers, Florida, specializes in WordPress websites. He works with both agency and business owners to build profitable, functional and modern websites that curate an online experience to achieve specific goals.

As a color blind user, Jake applies his own experience and knowledge of web accessibility to improve the usability of each site and bring the most value for each site visitor and website owner.

Jake is currently working on a couple of passion projects, most notably a blog called Color Blind By Design to share his artwork and experiences as a color blind artist and designer, which will be going live in the coming months.

Jake can be found on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Finding Out He Had Color Blindness

Colleen Gratzer: Welcome to the podcast, Jake. It’s so great to talk to you today.

Jake Albion: Yeah, nice to talk to you, too.

Colleen: We had talked a bit in Facebook Messenger a while back about accessibility. And you shared some really interesting things with me. I really can’t wait for other designers to hear about these things too.

Jake: Yeah. Cool.

Colleen: You had mentioned you have color blindness. I wanted to start out and ask you what type of color blindness you have.

Jake: I don’t know the official testing of it. I think it’s called protan—. There’s a special word for it. But I’ve never been…

Colleen: Protanopia?

Jake: I think so. But I’ve never been actually officially tested. It was to see if I wanted to use those sunglasses that everybody was trying out.

Colleen: Oh.

Jake: Yeah. But I know that when I’ve gone for eye exams, if there’s those 14 little color bubbles, I only usually get two of them right.

They don’t diagnose your color blindness. They’re just like, “Oh, yeah, you’re a color blind person.” There’s not really a whole lot of details to it.

It’s not really the kind of disability that really affects you in day-to-day life. I’ve never really spent a lot of time researching it in that way, if that makes sense.

Colleen: Yeah. There’s a couple types of red-green color blindness and that’s what it is, right? Red-green color blindness?

Jake: Yeah. It’s also because I come from a family full of color blind people. My brother is color blind. My uncle is color blind. My mom’s color blind. Actually, my great-grandma is also color blind. We all had different kinds and levels of color blindness. So I’m kind of aware of some of them.

I’ve looked at some of the tests and stuff, but I’ve never really tried to go through and diagnose anything.

Colleen: One in 12 males can have color blindness, but it’s very rare for women. I mean, that’s one in 200.

Jake: Oh, yeah. It’s usually not a lot. My mom, for example, she’s just blue-purple color blind. She has problems with blue and purple. It’s not nearly as bad as any of the guys.

Which is why they love playing games that had color codes. Because even though the women are color blind too, it was like, “Okay, cool. We can woop them on this.”

Colleen: Oh, that’s funny.

Jake: Yeah.

Colleen: When did you realize—or were you told—that you had color blindness?

Jake: All the way back in kindergarten, I knew how to read. I would cheat quite a bit, because I grew up pretty artistic. But because I learned how to read the labels on the crayons and stuff like that. I got away with it for a while.

I didn’t know that. It’s just learning at home, that’s how I learned, from reading the labels. Being so young, they just, “Oh, yeah, the kid’s just coloring all this stuff.”

But then we had to do a project, where we had to color a person. I colored the person with purple skin and green hair because there were no labels on the crayons.

They’re like, ”Oh, there might be something different going on here.” Sure enough, they tried a few different things with me because they realized that there were no labels on there.

That’s just how I remember it. Maybe it was a little bit different. But yeah. That was kind of like the first sign.

I was very artistic growing up, doing lots of painting and drawing and stuff like that. When I got to middle school is more when I learned a lot more on how to deal with color blindness as an artist.

Challenges With Color Blindness

Colleen: Oh, wow. It is not a problem on a daily basis, necessarily, but have you faced any obstacles as a result of having color blindness?

Jake: It’s just more like you get teased every once in a while because you see a car, if you’re playing a game, right?

The car is red but I think it’s black. That’s pretty much the worst that came of it—some harmless teasing. There’s nothing really that’s ever… It’s never put me in, say, a dangerous situation or put me back in any real significant way.

It’s just more of an inconvenience than anything else is how I would describe it. Because everyone always asked me to about driving cars, they’re like, “Oh, do you have problems reading the traffic light?”

“No, because, you might be reading the colors, but I’m reading the positions of the lights.” But I’m doing that subconsciously. It’s not like I’m aware of, that’s how I’m handling something.

Colleen: That’s so funny that you mentioned that because I was just gonna say, I use that exact example in my… in the course that I’m just coming out with, right now—the Accessible Branding and Design course.

Even if you can’t tell what color—the red from the yellow from the green—there’s that different position to tell you which one you need to do.

Jake: Yeah. Especially when you have color blindness you start making assumptions. People would ask, everyone’s favorite game when they find out I’m color blind is, “What’s this color? What’s this color? What color is the grass to you?”

The grass is green because I know it’s green. I don’t consciously sit there and look. I mean, sometimes I look and I go, “Wow. That grass is brown.” But it might actually be brown. And I know the sky is blue.

That’s why it’s also really hard when someone’s color blind, even when people try to take you seriously. Whether I’m doing things for art or whether I’m doing things for design.

It’s hard for people to conceive the fact that I’m color blind, because you grow up adapting to your situation.

Because like I said, it’s an inconvenience. It’s not actually something that really stops you from doing anything. Maybe this is just the way I grew up.

I was very fortunate to run into people that taught me how to cope with my disability as an artist.

Colleen: But when you were growing up, you had mentioned to me when we were talking before, you had mentioned that you were told you wouldn’t be able to do anything creative professionally because of that.

Jake: Yeah. There were a few things that went on there. Obviously, all parents are loving and they want you to do well, and stuff like that.

But at the time, they never saw art as really… because graphic design wasn’t even really that big or something we were aware of when I was growing up. Me nor my parents were in touch with any of that stuff.

It’s, “Oh, well, it’s very hard to grow up and be an artist. And the fact that you’re color blind would make things a lot more difficult for you.” They said, they always wanted me to keep it as a passionate thing.

But I grew up around a lot of entrepreneurs, so I was always on a business track. That’s kind of the track that I was… Like I said, it’s not that they discouraged me from art in any way, it was just more I was more encouraged towards business, because that’s what a lot of my family did.

It seems the most creative in my career I was going to be is marketing and in recommending creativity, not as much building. So to be able to find a career where I can actually create things and be creative was really awesome to fall into this.

Pursuing His Dream

Colleen: What made you not give up on wanting to be a creative professional?

Jake: I think I just never stopped doing art. I always stayed artistically inclined, even if I wasn’t doing it as much.

When I first started in marketing, I went through… I call it the normal millennial phase. I joined an agency and they threw me into SEO, and they threw me into social media.

Because back then you make a post and you get a bunch of likes and no one knew how to measure anything. So I bounced around doing all this different stuff.

I actually didn’t even… I hated technology, actually, when I got out of college. They teach me to use email seven times, because I just didn’t think it was important, which is dead wrong.

But yeah, so over time, I started playing with graphic design stuff. I used to hang out with all the different people in the agency. I was hanging out with the graphic designers. I was hanging out with the video guy and I got to work with all of them because I was very…

I was someone that wanted to try everything. All of a sudden, I’m figuring out that, “Oh, I can handle this stuff.” In college even, I took a web design class that I did not do well in.

Colleen: Oh. Because of the color issue or because of something else?

Jake: No. No, the way they taught was old school. We didn’t use divs; we used tables.

Colleen: Oh, dear.

Jake: All my exams, all my tests, were handwritten, handwriting code. There was no direct feedback if you did something wrong. There was no way to correct it because you were writing it all down.

I was also a senior in college who really did not care that much about how the class was going. It’s just, like I said, I wasn’t very technologically inclined.

I had friends who were computer science majors, and I did not like math, and they were in all that stuff. I remember seeing someone use inspector tools and it blowing my mind. “Oh my god, look at him. He’s changing the website.”

Something clicked when I joined an agency and all of a sudden figuring out, “Oh, the colors are not just something that I have to do visually, there’s hex codes, and there’s RGB and there’s these shortcuts I can take.”

I’m the kind of guy who grew up with my mom labeling my paints. It’s embarrassing, but that’s what happened.

I learned the color wheel. So, even though I can’t see it, I understood color theory, color relationships, all this stuff.

Colleen: Oh, wow.

Jake: Yeah. And because people love seeing my paintings, because it’s like, “Okay, paint this photo,” and then I paint it. And it was different because I’m color blind. They thought it was fascinating.

All of a sudden, someone’s handing me these keys to the kingdom, so to speak, when it comes to the website.

Because all of a sudden, my disability is no longer a disability. Because I have the knowledge and I have the tools to be able to create this stuff.

So just not that everything I create is not going to be as good as someone who doesn’t have color blindness, because you can’t use color theory and hex codes to create a good color pattern, right?

It’s still subjective at the end of the day. But I can get really, really close.

I’ve also… I’m not gonna lie. I’ve gotten frustrated to the point where I was trying to create color palettes and literally on the verge of tears. So frustrated that I could not get it to be just right.

But it’s also got me to the point where I was… I was accepting that, “Okay, this is just a weakness that I have. And I can do it to a certain point.”

But then this is where I also need to start asking for help. It doesn’t mean I just have to ask other designers. I have people I can go to whether they’re designers or not and ask them their opinions. I can make judgment calls based on that.

I started to create a support network, I found all these resources, all these other things that all of a sudden turned my disability into what I think is more of an advantage.

A normal designer might only be relying on their subjective view of these colors, where I have to rely on color psychology and color theory and I have to get other people’s opinions. It’s a much more involved process, which is why I don’t do it very much. But when I do do it, I can still pull it off.

Colleen: That is really interesting.

Jake: Yeah.

Colleen: Well, did you ever have a backup plan, like, hey, what if this creative professional stuff doesn’t work out?

Jake: I would say that I was lucky professionally too. The way I’ve always handled things is to move in a direction of something I like, until I wasn’t having fun anymore. Then I would just pick a different direction.

It’s not like I completely went into a completely different direction. But, for example, I hated SEO. I did it for a couple weeks, didn’t like it moved on to social media. Social media was fun, because I got to do some graphic design. But I didn’t really love doing social media and ads and stuff. So I moved on to videography.

That’s kind of been… The nice thing is I never really… My backup plan was more of just kind of keep moving around. If I found something I liked, I kind of researched it and figured out, like “Hey, is there something I can do. What would it take to do it?”

So I tried all these different things. The reason why I picked web design is I had been traveling abroad as a digital nomad.

I was a senior content strategist and strategic… I don’t know, I had all these fancy titles for the agency I worked with, because I was, the jack-of-all-trades kind of guy.

Colleen: The Jake-of-all-trades!

Jake: Exactly, yeah. I thought that’s really what I love. Because I was a very high-level strategist—understanding how the brand works as a whole ecosystem.

But then I started to hang out with a friend who did web design. The thing I noticed is, well, since I love to travel, I love learning new languages.

I’ve lived in a couple of countries for a month at a time. I’d pick up the language whenever I order my food.

Colleen: Oh, nice. I have a foreign language degree.

Jake: Oh, perfect. Yeah. I grew up learning Hebrew, Latin, ancient Greek. I got to live in Greece, which was pretty cool. But I learned conversational Greek living there for three months while abroad for school. I lived in Croatia for a month, I picked up Croatian.

Colleen: Oh, wow.

Jake: Yeah, it was hilarious. Because the Croatians were confused why anyone would learn Croatian if they’re not Croatian.

Colleen: I know somebody from there actually.

Jake: Okay, yeah. It’s an awesome language to learn. That’s just what I like, traveling to a place and kind of getting really involved in the culture.

How that carried over into web design is, all of a sudden it’s like, “Oh, I get to learn these languages. I get to build something. This is also the foundation of an online presence, right?”

So understanding the ecosystem, the way I explain to people now, is when I’m building a website, I’m building a store or a building.

I have friends that do PPC. I work with people that do social. What I described to customers is, “That’s building the roads back to your store. Once your store is built, and everything is set up to make sure that we can convert people to customers. It’s about driving that traffic.”

I realized that the language aspect and being able to create something and be creative. It allowed me to still be involved in all these things I learned but it brought me back to that central point of the website.

The website allowed me to do what I love most, which is learning new languages and being creative and allowed me to really design.

So even though I’m not a full-on graphic designer—but I have done logos and color palettes and stuff—I get to focus on the parts that I’m really, really good at. But I still get to flirt with all these other things that I enjoy doing.

Colleen: That’s so cool. I love that.

Jake: Yeah.

Colleen: How does color blindness impact how you choose color for projects?

Jake: I think the easiest way to address this—and this is more just—I learned how to explain this easier from learning about accessibility. I don’t really think about color blindness at all. It’s not that I don’t think about it. I’m focusing more on things like contrast and keeping things visible.

The hard thing for people to understand about color blindness is it’s not a disadvantage for me as the user. It’s a disadvantage for you and your customer.

The reason why is because, if you don’t have the right contrast, and things aren’t designed in a way for a low vision user—which would be someone with color blindness—maybe they don’t see so well—they’re gonna miss the really important things you want them to do, like, say, a call to action.

Colleen: Yeah, totally.

Jake: Yeah. I don’t think about color blindness, really. It’s just more about creating visibility and having another term is universal design. Making sure that it’s universally visible for anyone that can see your website. That’s kind of how I characterize it.

I do think about color blindness to an extent. But I think that if you hit the right amount of contrast, and if you rely on color theory—using complementary colors and things like that—you don’t have to worry about that nearly as much.

In fact, I don’t think about it at all. I don’t. Because if there’s a high level of contrast, then I don’t have to worry about colors getting confusing, even if you’re blue-yellow color blind.

Designing for People With Color Blindness

Colleen: Right. As a designer with color blindness, how do you make design better for others with color blindness?

Jake: And I guess this is why I hit on the accessibility again, taking a course like yours is helping people understand.

The way I would understand when you’re thinking about low vision, color blindness and all these other things is it’s like most people have been to Disney World, right? Or Disneyland? And it reminds me of A Bug’s Life, right?

Whatever the thing in the tree… There’s a 4D theater, where you can watch it and you can hear it, but it’s also spraying water at you and smoke.

Colleen: Oh.

Jake: Yeah. That’s how I think about websites. It’s like if I’m thinking about it from a screen reader perspective.

It’s a different type of experience that the website is offering than if I’m a visual user. If I’m a visual user, what are the different types of experiences that people are having?

I can’t control their experience, but I can control getting the right kind of content and the right kind of message in front of them and making sure that it’s cohesive, and it’s giving people the information they need.

That’s how I would encourage people to think about it, rather than just, “Yes, you should think about each type of disability as it applies to your site.”

But it’s really more about, “What do all these disabilities have in common? And how can I make a design that will get them to do what my client needs them to do on the site?”

Colleen: Exactly. Has having color blindness made you design differently?

But I guess not because you’ve always designed this way, you’ve learned what you need to do. But really not just the how you do it, though, what you take into consideration, like you’re talking about contrast.

Website Accessibility

Jake: Yes. There was a wake-up call for me too, for accessibility.

I had a teacher whose ex-husband was a color blind artist. She actually taught me how to be creative with color blindness by reading shades and being able to ballpark colors. She’s the one that encouraged me to learn color theory and all that different kind of stuff.

I kind of came in with a lot of these tools that I don’t know that everyone else came in with or I feel like my perspective might have been a little bit different.

But learning about accessibility allowed me to kind of really access a lot more resources that would do that.

Because when I first started, within six months of being an actual full-on web developer, I went to WordCamp US in Nashville, it was the first one. And I saw—I’m sorry if I butcher her name—Rian Rietveld.

Colleen: Oh, Rian Rietveld.

Jake: Yeah, yeah. I saw her talk.

Colleen: She’s great!

Jake: Yeah. That was my first introduction to accessibility. It was literally the first talk at my first WordCamp, my first introduction, everything.

To be honest, everyone around me, especially… I was there with a friend. They completely didn’t even care about accessibility.

But to me… I’m color blind. This has to do with me. Finding out over time that it was a bigger and bigger problem, I guess I did always kind of have it in mind.

But when I learned that there… I don’t want to say there was a market for it. Because I didn’t do it because there was a market. I did it because I wanted to.

As a service provider, you want to do everything you can to give your client all their advantages and make sure that they’re going to be able to make money. At the end of the day, if they’re not making money with you, then they’re not going to stick with you.

My mindset was, “Wow, I can actually create an experience where more people—people who may be frustrated on other websites come to this website, and then they want to work with my client.” So I’m basically looking to get more people.

Colleen: Exactly.

Jake: I felt I had the right motivation of doing that. That’s really kind of what brought me into all of this.

It was never about, “Oh, well, I’m gonna do this. So they don’t get sued.” It’s, “No, I’m gonna create the best experience possible.”

So as many people that come here don’t just love the experience of the site. They want to work with my client, and they want to work with me longer because of that.

Colleen: Yeah. And I mean, I’ve seen research that says, 71% of users with a disability that go to a site that isn’t accessible, they will leave, that’s a lot of people, and then they’re going to tell other people, “Hey, they’re not inclusive. They’re not making their site accessible to up to 20% of the population.”

Jake: Oh, yeah. I mean, for people that don’t understand what it’s like to go on a site and to get frustrated like that.

Imagine trying to go to a website and having to wait 20 seconds for it to load, you’re sitting there like, “I want to work with you. I’m literally doing everything I can.”

As a color blind person who… If your site was, let’s say it was really inaccessible from a color blind standpoint and I can’t see any of your call to actions. That’s frustrating for me, I want to work with you. I’m looking for a reason to work with you.

You’re making it difficult because maybe you want it to be really artsy or you thought it looked really cool. That’s all great.

But at the end of the day. I can’t do what I need to do to work with you. So I’m going to go work someplace.

I’m going to go find it someplace else. I’m frustrated now. Even if I tried to work with you, I’m already upset. You’re creating barriers.

Colleen: Yeah. Exactly. Design needs to be functional in order to be successful.

Jake: Yeah. Exactly. That’s why I love how the industry is really driven by creating pretty things. But the harsh reality I had to learn a very long time… Because when I first started doing web design, I wanted to build really cool websites.

Now, working with a lot of small businesses, they can’t care less. Not only do they not want to pay for it, they just want something that works and that’s going to convert.

That’s why like, “Yeah, can I make her whole site parallax?” Sure. But if it’s giving half the users a headache, maybe parallax isn’t a great idea.

Colleen: Right.

Jake: Luckily, I learned that lesson early on where I know it’s difficult because everyone wants to build something really cool, not just for your portfolio, even just for your ego. But sometimes we have to build things that are a little bit less pretty, but a lot more function.

Colleen: Exactly. Totally agree with that.

Choosing Colors as a Designer With Color Blindness

Colleen: Well, so when you’re working on a project, let’s say you’re working on a brand identity design, right? Or you’re working on a web design. How do you go about choosing colors?

Do you say, “Okay, I’m gonna go to a swatch book?” Or do you start with, “Okay, I know, the colors I want to use for this are going to be green and orange.”

What is your process for figuring out which colors you’re going to use? And then how are you actually selecting those colors—the values?

Jake: Yeah, I don’t know everyone else’s process quite as much. But I am familiar just with the regular graphic design and web design process of asking a client, what kind of colors they like and dislike is where I start. And then from there, I do think more of color psychology.

To be honest, I am a big fan of blue and orange. And it has nothing to do with UF [University of Florida], I promise. But I’m a big fan of blue and orange. Because blue is about trust and just from a psychological standpoint, orange is very friendly.

Colleen: Right.

Jake: That’s exactly how I start picking colors. I stick with more generic color palettes, like teals a little bit more unusual for me.

But if a client requests teal, I’ll go and I’ll find color combinations for teal through the Coolors generator. And I’ll play around with some different colors to see what I can come up with.

If I’m like working on the branding, I do two to three colors for the logo. I try to make sure they’re always complementary, if I can. It’s just my default.

I feel a lot more comfortable with complementary colors than say, any of the other—analogous or triads. I don’t feel as comfortable with those.

Like I said, I do check in with people. Once I have more of those generic colors picked, then I try to compare it to kind of what’s out there with the competition. Or if there’s a brand, I thought that did it really, really well.

So now, I’m moving out of my comfort zone where even though I understand the colors… Now we’re moving more into the subjective side. I try the best I can to create those subjective colors with messing with the hue and the saturation and stuff like that.

And once I have that done, sometimes it’s just finding an image where I just really liked the color palette and just pulling that out.

And then, like on Adobe’s thing, I start switching through, “Oh, do I want it to be deep colors? Do I want it to be lighter?” I just start playing with all these different color palettes and kind of mixing and matching. And once I have two solid brand colors, I create two or three accent colors. Then I always design my logos in black and white first.

Colleen: Oh, good. I love that. Yes.

Jake: Yeah. I went on the graphic design class, they told me–because I actually went back to when I came back home from school. I actually went and took some classes at the local college for graphic design.

I just wanted to learn more, I was just interested. They said, always design your logos in black and white and imagine that it’s 2 inches by 2 inches and has to be printed 1,000 times on hundreds of tote bags.

Will your logo not look good? Is it going to be clear? Or if a big truck was driving by and you could only see it for two seconds, could you make out what the logo was and inherently know what that is?

Those are kind of the different things that I think about. If colors kind of seem conflicting to me, then I definitely won’t use them.

But then I also know that I do have to ask for help from working with people on the project. I’ll send it to some close friends or family that I know kind of have some kind of artsy taste.

Oh, and yeah, from there, then I just get client’s approval. Sometimes clients want to tweak stuff. To be honest, there are times where I don’t agree with the direction that the client’s going.

Colleen: Of course.

Jake: Yeah, and I let them know, “Hey, this is why it doesn’t work.” But the nice thing is, when I’m explaining it, I don’t say “Oh, that doesn’t look good.”

I say, “Oh, from a color psychology standpoint or from the way the color wheel works, I would not advise this, because you’re only looking at just the logo. But I’m thinking about what the logo looks like on the website, on a hat, on a tote bag.”

Colleen: Right.

Jake: I’m thinking about in all these different things. And I think that’s where that advantage comes in, it’s being able to explain that, and how I came to those colors.

Colleen: Right.

Jake: And having those reasons, they trust me. Even when they know I’m color blind, they still trust me because they’re like, “Oh, this, you know, these things make sense.” And other people think it makes sense. Like the colors make sense subjectively.

Color Blindness as a Benefit

Colleen: I was gonna ask you. Do you tell clients about your color blindness? Because I was thinking, how is that going to affect you defending your color choices? But it doesn’t sound like that’s an issue.

Jake: No, I was really nervous at first. And I mean, my business has a couple of different kinds of clients. I have white label clients, then I freelance with a couple of people and then I have my own clients.

And what was really cool with the company I work very closely with doing white label. The guy I worked with actually encouraged me to bring that up a lot more.

We started bringing it up in meetings because accessibility was a topic that we had to address.

And it actually validated it more, because it’s like, “No, we have a color blind person who not only built your website.” But if I did the logos and colors, it’s I–as a web developer. I think it’s not just obviously web developers that overlook it.

But I’ve worked with designers that just don’t care about accessibility, and I get why. They want to build really pretty stuff.

Colleen: Right. I’m trying to change that.

Jake: Yeah. Exactly. That’s why I think your course is great and everything too. Because you start to think about the fact that, what you might have learned in school isn’t really canon anymore. It’s definitely helped to have those tools.

But the designers that I’ve worked with have started to realize, “Okay, I do have to understand and justify how this is going to work and all these different ways. Because even though I made a really cool logo with these colors. When I get it on the website, all of a sudden–I now have a conflicting color palette. Because I have to make it accessible and I can’t change your branding.”

Colleen: Right. Exactly. I’ve run into this issue all the time, too. Yeah.

Jake: Yeah. And then obviously, it puts us in a weird spot. Especially when… how do you defend… as a web developer, I want to defend the graphic designer I’m working with.

Colleen: Right.

Jake: I can only do so much for you if you didn’t take accessibility into account, but I am. Because now you have to explain to the client, why the palette doesn’t work in digital.

Colleen: Right. I run into that all the time remediating other creative firms’ InDesign files and when making suggestions, like in a website audit, “Here’s what you could change it to.” But I need to know what your brand color palette looks like.

I can kind of give you a good idea of what to change this to without totally mucking up how it’s gonna look based on that existing color palette.

Because you want them… As a designer, I want to maintain that brand integrity, but at the same time, it’s like, “What are we working with here?”

Jake: Exactly. Yeah. I feel like in the designer world, it would be like if you only designed in CMYK and then all of a sudden you had to go build something in RGB. And the CMYK stuff just doesn’t really–at least for me convert over, right?

I’ve actually had that happen where someone designed something in CMYK and then they’re upset because it doesn’t match up when I go and build the website. And I was like, “Well, that’s because these things are not the same.”

I think that’d be a good way for designers to think about it. The same way you want CMYK and RGB to be able to work together and still have that cohesive look.

That’s the same thing that your web developer partners are looking for, if you’re a graphic designer or web designer working with the developer.

We all want the same thing. We want that cohesiveness. That’s where both sides need to take responsibility, because I kind of had that fluid role.

Colleen: Sure.

Jake: I’ve learned, “Okay, I have to be responsible for these things. But I also have to hold my partner accountable for these things too, for this to work.”

Colleen: Yeah, it’s definitely everybody’s responsibility.

The Tools Jake Uses

Colleen: What tools do you use in your work process? What apps or checkers or things like that do you usually use?

Jake: If I’m picking out a color system, I like to play with Material Design, because I can play with the shades a little bit more. And it kind of has–there’s an algorithm that sets that.

Colleen: Is that a program?

Jake: No, it’s the Material Design system. I basically do makeshift design systems. I promise I’m trying to get a lot better and actually create my own design systems. I take inspiration from like the Material Design, which I think is Google.

I use their color tool. I use Coolors, which is a color generator. I use Adobe Color, mostly to pull colors from pictures. And it’s nice, because I can export them into–I use Illustrator and Photoshop all the time. That’s for kind of picking out my colors.

And then when it comes to checking for accessibility on the website. I mean, obviously, you do need to have the manual knowledge to really do a good job.

For the generators, I use axe from Deque. I use WAVE. I use Lighthouse.

Special warning too: There are false positives on some of those things.

Colleen: Oh. Yeah.

Jake: Which is why it’s super important to understand the manual.

Colleen: And what are you using for contrast checking?

Jake: It’s I do rely on WAVE a little bit for that. Even though it flags contrast error. Sometimes it’s just not a contrast error or it’s because you’re on the back end end like the little WordPress back end dashboard bar pops-up. That’ll flag it.

Colleen: Oh, yeah. Right. That’s so annoying. And I have to go log out of the site and then redo the check, right?

Jake: That’s so annoying. Yep. And I do use a couple different plugins. This one in particular from St. Pete Design. Who I also saw speak–I use their plugin sometimes. This is all once again, this is not stuff that I 100% rely on.

Colleen: Right.

Jake: These are just things to help me find trends, the same way you use GTMetrix, or Lighthouse or any thing. I don’t go, “Oh, well, this is definitely something wrong with the site.” I’m looking for those trends that–of errors and then I go in.

Colleen: Yeah. And I want to just reiterate the point what you were saying about the automated checkers like WAVE and axe, because, I mean, several times a week, I get tagged in accessibility posts on Facebook. Because everybody identifies me with it.

And there’s always somebody there who’s saying, just run WAVE, just run axe, just do this, just install this overlay.

And I’m like, “No, no, there are false positives. They don’t pick up 70% to 75% of issues.”

I mean, if you’re only checking with those checkers, you’re missing out on the bulk of the…

Jake: And you could be making it worse.

Colleen: Yeah. I mean, if you don’t know about accessibility, and you’re just running these checkers and relying on them, you’re really missing the boat.

Because there are so many things they’re not catching. They’re only catching 25% of issues. Like you said, they give false positives and you have to be able to determine whether that’s a false positive or not. There are so many major things that they can’t even detect.

And then some plugins, they’ll help you find images that don’t have Alt-text. Well, maybe there’s an image that has Alt-text that shouldn’t, maybe there’s an image that has Alt-text that doesn’t have good Alt-text.

Jake: Or the builder, the builder might actually have the Alt-text inserted. But if you were to test it manually, it reads fine. But according to the checker it’s not there. So now you’re sitting there spending hours trying to fix something that’s not a problem. I’ve been there.

Colleen: You kind of touched on this already. But what do you wish more designers knew about accessibility? Is there anything else you want to add to that?

Jake: I guess, just know that there are a lot of free resources out there to get started. And I would still encourage people–because I’m actually taking a class. And I do always encourage people to take classes if you really want to make sure you’re doing it right.

Colleen: Yeah.

Jake: But take advantage of the risk-free resources that are out there. Like the A11Y Project. And I know, you did a talk for WP Accessibility Day. And there’s countless talks from WordPress TV. That’s how I started. When I first started, it wasn’t just like, “Okay, I know all the accessibility stuff. I’m just gonna insert it.”

Colleen: Right.

Jake: No, I started out with an 11-step checklist from the St. Pete Design talk. I just started building up on that list overtime. It actually made it…

Colleen: So did I.

Jake: It made me more valuable at the agency. If you work for an agency, it makes you more valuable to the agency you work for.

Colleen: Absolutely.

Jake: Especially because, honestly, the guys I work for couldn’t care less. But I just did it because I wanted things to be better. You eventually build to the part where you have this process now.

Colleen: Mine is nine pages long.

Jake: Oh. Wow.

Colleen: My checklist is nine pages.

Jake: I’m actually rewriting mine right now. And it’s not just a checklist, either. It’s literally explaining even design tips.

When you’re designing something this way, it’s not just “make sure this level of contrast.” But “make sure it’s designed a specific way that will help someone that has low vision who might have cataracts,” for example.

I’m just thinking through all those different experiences. That’s what I would encourage people to do.

Don’t be intimidated, because there’s so many resources out there. If you just take the time even a little bit every day.

Colleen: Yeah.

Jake: To go and read these resources. It doesn’t just help you and it doesn’t just help your customer, you’re creating a better environment for all of the users on the internet. There’s enough internet pollution out there.

Colleen: There’s a lot of bad info about accessibility out there too.

Jake: Oh, yeah. Well, that’s why you want the overlays. You might think it’s a good temporary band-aid. But I did just work with a big client who wanted me to do it, and they literally asked me, “So you’re saying that if I do everything you told me, I’m not going to get sued?”

My response was, “Absolutely not. I can definitely not tell you that.” I said, “If you hear anyone telling you that, run away because they’re lying to you.”

Colleen: Right. Exactly.

Jake: Accessibility is an ongoing thing. It’s just adding steps and constantly improving and creating. There are so many websites out there where people are making no effort.

Colleen: Right.

Jake: And those are also who the lawyers and stuff are after.

Colleen: Exactly.

Jake: Even if you put in a little bit of effort. Even just making sure you have the alt tags and making sure that there’s no keyboard traps. Even doing some of those things will make you less of a target. Your clients need to understand that too.

I also stay away from talking about lawsuits with people. For me, it’s definitely about, “Oh, we want to have as many people coming to your site and having a good experience as possible.” In my opinion, that’s the right way to approach it.

Colleen: Right.

Jake: Definitely. Don’t ever tell someone that they won’t get sued if they have an accessible website, because it’s a myth.

Colleen: Right. Anybody can sue anybody for anything at any time. Nobody, even lawyers, can’t say you won’t get sued. If your site’s accessible, then you’re less of a target, like you said.

Jake: Exactly. If anything too, people are going to give you more feedback to make your sites better.

Colleen: Right.

Jake: That’s going to make you better in the market, it’s going to make you a better developer that people come to.

Because for me, I actually don’t even really bring up accessibility that much. I tell people, it’s just a default feature in my websites. When they asked me, I was, “Oh, well, we just work on that stuff naturally.”

But that way, too, I want it to be a comfortable conversation. I don’t want to scare anyone or anything like that. I want them to be doing it for the right reasons: because they want to give people a better experience. They want to grow their business. I don’t want to be there like, “Hey, you got to do this, so you don’t get sued.”

Colleen: Right. Well, this has been… I have really enjoyed this chat. This has been a lot of fun. I always love talking about this. It’s nice to have somebody else on to talk about this.

Jake: Yeah, me too.

Colleen: Where can listeners find you online?

Jake: My site is It’s under construction right now, but I’ll make sure it comes back up pretty soon. That’s my main website right now. And then you can find me on… I have a Facebook page for, Instagram and Twitter.

Actually, I thought of one cool thing from the group that motivated me—and I don’t think I told you about this yet. I was inspired because a couple people asked me about my art. So for a side blog, I decided to create a site called Color Blind By Design.

Colleen: Ohh.

Jake: Yeah. It’s gonna be a place for me to kind of share a lot of my art and stuff as I’m trying to get back into that as a hobby and just as a place to kind of share my experience so that way people can see it a little bit more.

And to your point, just make a little bit more awareness, not just about accessibility. But it’s always cool to see art from a different perspective. And that’s really what I decided to start doing for the blogs. A few people would ask me about some of my old artwork, and I was like, “Okay, well, I’m gonna start doing it again. I might as well get a blog going.”

Colleen: And that was inspired by my group? I love that. Oh my gosh, that’s awesome.

Jake: Yeah, yeah. And that’ll be probably in the… I’m not gonna lie, it’ll probably be about six months before it’s up, but that will be up eventually.

Colleen: This has really been fun. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this.

Jake: Same. This was awesome.

Learn More About Accessibility

If you’re a designer, learn how to design with accessibility in mind and create accessible color palettes and branding.

If you design and lay out documents, download the Essential InDesign and PDF Accessibility Tools guide.

If you’re a web designer and developer, download the free guides, 5 Mistakes Developers Make When Building Accessible Websites and Understanding and Selling Accessible Websites.

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