Earlier today, I tagged one of my friends on Twitter to share some of their favorite features about their computer, and one of the features they mentioned was the availability of system-wide dark mode for low vision users. While dark mode is easier on my eyes and doesn’t trigger my photosensitivity as easily, I don’t actually have it enabled on all of my devices and applications, even though I have low vision. Here are my thoughts on using dark mode with low vision, and different factors that influence whether I go towards the dark side or go towards the light.
What is dark mode?
Dark mode (sometimes called dark theme or night mode) is a light-on-dark color scheme that uses light-colored text, icons, and graphical user interface elements on a dark background. It has grown in popularity over the years as a way to help prevent screen fatigue for users and make text and other elements easier to read or interact with for longer periods of time.
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Some advantages to using dark mode for low vision
Dark mode can be beneficial for all users, though it can be especially beneficial for users with low vision and light sensitivity. Some of the advantages to using dark mode for low vision include:
- Inverted text is easier to read for longer periods of time and is less likely to cause eye strain or fatigue
- Some apps use simpler color displays when dark mode is available or use high-contrast color schemes
- Many users find that light-colored text and objects pop better against a dark background and are easier to locate on a screen
- It can make devices easier to use at night or in low-lighting conditions
- For some devices, dark mode can help to conserve battery since it doesn’t require as much power to display dark colors on OLED displays
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Some disadvantages to using dark mode for low vision
With all of these awesome benefits, why wouldn’t someone with low vision want to use dark mode all of the time? There are lots of different factors that can influence why dark mode for low vision users isn’t the best option, which include:
- Dark mode may not actually provide enough contrast, such as gray text on a black background
- Many users prefer a different text color other than white for dark/black backgrounds, such as yellow or green
- People with colorblindness or certain eye conditions may have more trouble using displays with darker colors, or find dark mode impossible to use
- Devices with dark mode enabled can be difficult to read in brightly lit environments or in direct sunlight
- For users that rely on color to be able to navigate a screen or website, a dark mode can be disorienting since the colors are often taken away or replaced.
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My current dark mode settings
My current settings for dark mode across my most-used devices include:
Light appearance is enabled by default, though I have a custom schedule for using dark mode if I wake up between 2 am and 6 am, so that I don’t hurt my eyes when checking a message or urgent notification. This can be configured in the Display & Brightness section of the Settings app in iOS 13 and later.
Windows 10 computer
I set the default Windows mode to dark so that I can have better contrast with the icons on the start menu and taskbar. However, my default app mode is set to light so that I can read the text more easily- I can always enable High Contrast mode or invert the screen with a keyboard shortcut if I need to use a darker background (more on that later). These settings can be configured in the Color Settings section of System Preferences.
Dark theme is always on for my Android phone, though I have additional high contrast settings enabled on my display. My default app mode is also dark because I typically do not read text or browse content on my phone for long periods of time like I do on my other devices, though it is worth noting that my keyboard is not in dark mode as I use a third-party app. Dark mode can be turned on within the Display section of Settings.
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Choosing a high contrast display over dark mode
Instead of using the default dark mode on my computer, I prefer to use the High Contrast theme as needed on my Windows 10 computer, since I have more control over how colors are displayed. Instead of using the traditional white text on a dark background, I use bright yellow text, green hyperlinks, and similar vibrant colors that are easier for me to see than bright white. While I almost always had the High Contrast theme enabled on my computer when I interned at a major tech company, nowadays I typically enable/disable it as needed by pressing the left alt, left shift, and print screen keys on my computer.
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Adjusting my screens for photosensitivity
In this context, I’m talking about sensitivity to bright lights and light in general, though many people also experience photosensitivity to flashing or strobe lights as well. In order to help with my photosensitivity, I wear purplish-gray tinted prescription glasses everywhere I go and have different color filters on the screens of my mobile devices- I don’t wear specific tinted glasses for using the computer, and I never wear glasses that aren’t tinted. While I may not have dark mode enabled for every app, I do have other display accommodations enabled on my devices that pair well with both dark mode and light mode, which include:
- Reduced white point
- Increased contrast
- Reducing transparency
- A saturated/vibrant color scheme that increases the vibrancy of colors
- Color filters/night light that help to filter out blue light
I’ve written about the various accessibility settings that I use for individual devices in more in-depth posts that I have linked below.
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- Low Vision Accessibility Settings For Windows 10
- How To Make iPad Accessible for Low Vision
- Low Vision Accessibility Settings For Android Phones
- Tips For Using Social Media With Photosensitivity
Configuring individual apps for dark mode
What factors influence my decision to turn on dark mode for an application? Some of them include:
- Whether I rely on color or not to read or understand how to navigate the app
- If the font supports bold text that easily stands out against the background
- Whether I have to read large amounts of text or not- I prefer to read shorter bursts of text when using dark mode so that I don’t have to strain to focus my eyes as much
- My fatigue levels or sensitivity to light- I prefer dark mode for when I am recovering from a migraine
- If I think the app looks good with dark mode or not- while I favor accessibility over aesthetics, sometimes I find apps with light mode to be easier to focus on, even if they do hurt my eyes
While every app is different, users can configure dark mode/light mode for individual apps by opening the app and going into its settings menu, and select whether they want to use dark mode or the default display. For users that have system-wide dark mode enabled, dark mode will be enabled whenever it is available.
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While choosing to enable dark mode versus light mode is technically a black-and-white decision, every person with low vision is different when it comes to determining their technology preferences and there can be lots of grey areas that influence whether a user can benefit from using dark mode or not. I hope that this post is helpful for others who want to learn more about dark mode for low vision and other alternatives that can help make displays easier to use!