The Mac “Differentiate without color” Accessibility Setting Explained
Mac users who have explored the Display Accessibility preference panels, perhaps to disable transparency or to increase visual contrast, have likely seen another setting called “Differentiate without color.” If you have wondered what that setting does or means, you’re certainly not alone, and you may have even toggled it on or off trying to see any difference through Mac OS X.
The best explanation of “Differentiate without color” setting is that it is intended to be helpful for users with visual difficulties or color blindness, and it aims to use shapes to to relay information rather than colors. This is great in theory, but the adjustments offered are not particularly obvious visual changes offered.
You can try this setting yourself on a Mac with a modern Mac OS X version by doing the following:
- Open System Preferences from the Apple menu and choose “Accessibility”
- Go to the Display section, and check the box next to “Differentiate without color”
Checking the setting on (or off) offers no immediately visible changes, but they are tucked throughout Mac OS X if you look hard enough.
After poking around extensively trying to find what exactly changes, the only thing I could find was a reference to an extraordinarily subtle adjustment to some shapes in the Messages app for status updates. Here it is…
“Differentiate without color” enabled:
“Differentiate without color” disabled (the default):
Can you spot the difference? It’s the tiny color shape of the “Away” status option, which switches from a circle to a square when the setting is turned on.
There almost certainly other equally subtle changes throughout Mac OS X when this setting is enabled, but I haven’t been able to find them. If you know of any others, do let us know in the comments.
This is a feature with a lot of potential, either to make options and buttons more obvious (kind of like you can do with iOS with Button Shapes toggle), or to greatly assist users with atypical vision, so let’s hope future versions of Mac system software expand on the idea.