Innovative ColourMap tool helping students with geography

29 November 2018

People with colour blindness now have a new tool to help them access on-screen information, whether it be for work, school or leisure, thanks to the innovative work of Vision Australia’s Digital Access team.

Developed by Digital Access principal technical consultant Pierre Frederiksen, Vision Australia’s ColourMap makes on-screen images interactive and allows users with colour blindness to read maps and other diagrams that use colour legends.

“I got the idea when researching colour blindness. There is such a difference in the way different people perceive colour and there was no obvious colour combination that would fit all or most users, so I figured that using black and giving it the ability to flicker would be clear to most users,” Pierre said.

The first version of the tool was developed in 2012 as a Firefox add-on.

The toolbar made it possible for users to make images on webpages interactive by clicking on the toolbar button and then clicking on each of the legend points on the map. This created the functionality where the user can hover over a legend item and then see the corresponding area on the map turn black.

ColourMap has been immensely beneficial for high school geography teacher Roz Minnikin.

“I currently have two year 11 students who are colour blind and discovering ColourMap has been revolutionary for them, and me,” Roz said.

“Originally, I started investigating ways to transform choropleth maps (maps which use colour tones) for my colour blind students. I spent hours trying to recreate maps for an assessment and still hadn’t finished the task due to having to recreate multiple, complex sources which all required the capacity to differentiate colour for analysis purposes.

“I started searching online and found many colour blind simulators and colour analysis tools but nothing which transformed an image for a colour blind student.

“It was great that these tools allowed us to empathise with what a colour blind student could see, but there were no solutions provided which accommodated the colour blind student. It was so frustrating! This is where ColourMap came into its own!” she said.

While ColourMap seemed to be a solution for Roz and her students, there were some issues with the toolbar functionality, as her school didn’t use Firefox on their internal network.

Pierre developed the ColourMap web page which uses drag-and-drop functionality as well as a print function, allowing people to use the tool regardless of their browser and in situations like exams where computer access isn’t possible.

ColourMap was also updated to make it accessible for keyboard users.

With these updates, Roz said ColourMap is allowing her students the same opportunities to learn as their peers and has solved what was a stressful situation for her.

“Colour map has saved me an inordinate amount of time, has reduced any potential stress regarding accommodating colour blind students and has made me more aware of colour blindness and its impact on a student’s capacity to demonstrate their spatial description, interpretation and analytical skills.

“We can now feel comfortable championing the cause of our students without the feeling that we would not be able to accommodate them due to time and resources constraints.

“It has been my absolute saviour and it has made me feel good that we can provide a more equitable and reliable way to teach and assess students with colour blindness.”