Choosing Wallpapers and Backgrounds with Low Vision

Yesterday at my internship, I was watching someone set up my computer when I noticed that there appeared to be no icons on my computer's home screen. This seemed weird to me, because one of the people on my team said that there were icon labels on the screen, but they agreed that the icons themselves seemed to have completely disappeared. After several minutes of thought, we discovered that my blue icons had simply blended into the blue background of my computer screen, and that they hadn't disappeared entirely. Now, I'm trying out several different wallpapers to see which one I like best, and today I will be sharing how to choose wallpapers and desktop backgrounds with low vision.

How to set a background or wallpaper

Windows

  1. Right click on the desktop background
  2. When the menu pops up, choose the "personalize" option
  3. Choose an image or color from the wallpaper section

Mac

  1. Choose Apple menu, followed by "System Preferences."
  2. Click Desktop & Screen Saver.
  3. From the Desktop pane, select a folder of images on the left, then click an image on the right to change your desktop picture.

iPad and iPhone

  1. Go to settings
  2. Select the "wallpaper" settings menu under "display and brightness"
  3. Choose your lock screen and wallpaper from the gallery

Android

  1. Go to settings
  2. Select the display option, followed by "wallpaper"
  3. Choose image from gallery

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Why solid black isn't your only choice

Using a solid black background can be the most obvious choice when creating a high contrast desktop. When I was in high school, I chose a solid black background for my school laptop because it was easy for me to find icons, but also because I was worried people would make assumptions about my sight level if I chose to have a fun colored background- I was worried they might think I didn't need the laptop if I was able to see the wallpaper I had chosen. Of course, I know now that it doesn't matter what others think about how I use technology, and there's really nothing wrong with using a solid black background for its simplicity, high contrast display, and lack of bright colors. I just prefer to explore my other options for choosing a wallpaper with low vision.

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Considerations for choosing other solid colors

For people that want to use a solid colored background but don't like black, there are literally millions of options for setting your own custom colored background. Here are some considerations for choosing a solid colored background:

  • Make sure that the color is different from any of the icons you might be using. A blue background can easily make blue icons disappear, while an orange background will make the blue icons pop.
  • Avoid super bright or neon colors if possible, since these can be tiring to look at.
  • If possible, choose dark or neutral shades of colors that can still provide a high contrast display without being solid black. Examples of good colors would be burgundy, hunter green, navy, deep purple, or silver.

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Large scale patterns

My personal computer and my iPad have the same wallpaper, which features a large-scale colorful brushstroke pattern. I prefer to have a large scale pattern because the smaller scale patterns can be disorienting to look at or accidentally cause an optical illusion- not good for someone who is already trying to avoid tiring their eyes. Moving or live wallpapers can have a similar effect, though I wouldn't recommend using them anyway because they drain the device battery.

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Choosing artwork by a blind or low vision artist

One of my friends was telling me about how after they learned about how many classic artists had vision impairments, they decided to research more contemporary artists with blindness and low vision. As a result, they decided to set their desktop wallpaper to be a painting from another artist with the same eye condition as they have. Since many of these artists use contrasting colors and large scale patterns, it makes perfect sense that they would create art that is easy to see. This would be a great art history themed activity for students to learn more about vision impairment throughout history.

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Calendar wallpaper

One of my professors would set their desktop wallpaper to be a weeklong calendar so that they could see what documents were due when, and have presentations organized for the week. At the end of the week, they would move the files to other folders or put them on the bottom of the screen underneath the calendar. This would be a great way for students to organize assignments that may be due on a certain day or to show what assignments were done on a particular day.

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Using squares or shapes for icon organization

Another one of my friends frequently saves documents to their desktop when they are working on class assignments, which leads to them having a ton of documents in no clear order. One of the ideas we had for organizing their desktop computer was to create a wallpaper with different colored squares or shapes so that they could organize similar documents, folders, and programs together. We did this by checking their screen resolution in display settings and then creating a custom PowerPoint template that was the same size as the desktop. After that, we arranged different colored shapes that were large enough to hold several icons. For people with limited color vision, I recommend using unique shapes and sizes for each category.

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Creating a large scale to-do list

One of the ideas I came up with yesterday was to use the sticky note function to add notes on my desktop, and then put icons underneath so that I could remember what files I was using. It reminded me of how I organize notes in Microsoft OneNote, but without having to open another program- everything I could possibly need was right there. If preferred, users can also create a wallpaper similar to what my friend and I did in PowerPoint that has text labels for icon categories as well.

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Final thoughts

Ultimately, it's up to the user to decide what wallpaper works best for them and their needs. While it may seem like a simple task, choosing a desktop wallpaper or background for low vision can allow users to have a personal touch on their device and make it seem like a fun device to use, instead of just another piece of assistive technology. I really like my desktop wallpaper and I hope that others are able to find one that they enjoy as well.

 

 

Read more about: Assistive Technology