Saturday, August 25, 2012

CSS Background Images & High Contrast Mode

Screen shot showing web page in both high-contrast and normal mode. I try to stay up on accessibility gotchas and weird browser implementations, but I just discovered one that I suspect I should have already known.

In Steve Faulkner's post, Notes on accessible CSS image sprites, he tosses out a factoid that was new to me:

When high contrast mode is enabled in the Windows OS, the sprite is not displayed (CSS background images are not displayed in high contrast mode).

This statement is made in a larger discussion of how to create appropriate fall-backs for designs that rely on CSS image sprites. He provides some handy scripts and techniques within the article.

Separately from this I saw a post yesterday on one of the Microsoft blogs titled -ms-high-contrast media feature that discusses a media query for Windows 8 and IE10 that will detect if the viewer is using high contrast mode (and which flavor).

The code is pretty simple and uses an -ms prefix to do its work:

@media screen and (-ms-high-contrast: active) {/* All high contrast styling rules */}
@media screen and (-ms-high-contrast: black-on-white) {
    div { background-image: url('image-bw.png'); }
@media screen and (-ms-high-contrast: white-on-black) {
    div { background-image: url('image-wb.png'); }

Clearly this isn't ready for prime time, and you'll still need to use techniques outlined in Faulkner's post, but it is a handy technique that I hope makes it into the spec and gets support from other operating systems and browsers.

Granted, web devs may still screw it up (as they have with accessibility and/or print styles for years now), but at least those worth their salt (and rates) will have another tool to better support users in various configurations.


Update: November 8, 2013

With coming support for the luminosity media query in CSS4, perhaps you can re-use some of your work for high contrast mode or vice versa: Responding to environmental lighting with CSS Media Queries Level 4

Update: October 14, 2014

In CSS Background Images and Accessibility by SSB Bart Group, the author makes the case that not relying on background images is the best approach for accessibility (offering alternative techniques to satisfy design requirements).

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