An abstract linear design of color and contrast Image credit: Midjourney

Color and Contrast

Crafting Visually Accessible Websites

3 minute read

Color and contrast are powerful tools in conveying meaning, function, and emotion on websites and applications. However, it’s crucial to recognize that these elements are perceived differently by individuals, impacting their experience with them.

Welcome back to our series on designing accessible websites. Having laid the groundwork on accessibility basics and team roles, let’s turn our attention to a crucial, yet often overlooked, aspect of accessible design — color and contrast.

Understanding Color Accessibility

Color is a powerful tool in interface design, but it’s important to remember that not everyone perceives color in the same way. Color vision deficiencies, such as color blindness, can significantly alter how users interact with your website.

The Challenge of Color Blindness

As someone who deals with (admittedly mild) protanopia, I have a personal understanding of the challenges faced by those with color vision deficiencies. In fact, it’s more common than you might think. Color blindness affects approximately 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women globally. This means a substantial portion of your audience might not distinguish certain colors — a red error message might go unnoticed, or a green ‘success’ indicator might not make sense.

More Than Just Color

Relying solely on color to convey information can be problematic. It’s crucial to use additional cues — like text labels or icons — to ensure that all users can navigate your content effectively.

The Role of Contrast

a visualization of high and low contrast using text from the word `contrast`.

Contrast is not just an aesthetic choice; it’s a key factor in making your website usable for people with visual impairments and those viewing it in less-than-ideal lighting conditions. d

Understanding Contrast Ratios

The contrast ratio between text and its background can mean the difference between readable content and a jumbled mess. The WCAG recommends a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text.

Tools for Checking Contrast

Thankfully, there are tools to help you get this right:

Best Practices for Color and Contrast

A screenshot of the Coblis color blindness simulator

The Coblis color blindness simulator is a great tool for showing you what someone with the condition sees when using your site.

Selecting Accessible Color Schemes

When choosing colors for your website, consider how different combinations might appear to someone with color vision deficiencies. Tools like Coblis — Color Blindness Simulator can help you visualize your palette through their eyes.

Designing for Different Types of Color Vision Deficiencies

Color vision deficiencies vary, and understanding these variations is key to creating an inclusive design. Here’s a closer look at the three common types:

Protanopia (Red-Green Color Blindness)

Deuteranopia (Green Color Blindness)

Tritanopia (Blue-Yellow Color Blindness)

Implementing Accessible Colors and Contrast in Development

For developers, implementing accessible color schemes means more than just choosing the right palette. It involves:

By understanding the importance of color and contrast in accessibility, we can create websites that are not only visually appealing but also inclusive. In our next article, we will dive into the world of keyboard navigation and its pivotal role in accessibility.

Next Up: Screen Navigation Tips and Techniques

Next up in our series on accessibility is a look at keyboard navigation; why it’s important and how to go about making your websites and apps run smoothly for users who may not have access to other, more common, input devices. Stay tuned!

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Originally published June 20, 2023
File under: ux  accessibility