Thursday | August 26, 2021
How to Use Color Contrast To Improve Your Website Accessibility In One Fell Swoop
Let’s start with a simple question – If I say the words “color and contrast,” where does your mind go? It probably doesn’t go to accessibility, and you’re not alone. But, would you believe that despite that, it’s one of the most important factors when it comes to web accessibility?
A website can use colors to delight, entertain, and engage. It is common practice to create websites that provide a rich user experience through intuitive and beautiful designs, or at least that expectation. However, there are times when a poorly executed visual presentation can harm your user experience due to color choices that are not following best practices.
What you want is a website that feels good and easy to navigate – that way, you’re bringing people in, making money, and get your users to come back. Unfortunately, using color palettes without much thought can create lots of issues. For example, lousy color contrast combinations can make the text hard to read or cause eye strain, visibly hurting your users, literally! – Low contrast with poor color choices will do that to you—and it’ll ruin your website’s chances of ranking and offering and friendly user experience from the very beginning.
But what is color contrast? What’s so important about it that can make or break your website from the very beginning?
Contrast is just the difference between the elements on the page – especially text and background colors. They’ll help you distinguish one object from another when there are many visuals on a page. It will also allow users to read the text more quickly because they’ll easily make out words and shapes.
Color accessibility is, instead, how easy it is for people to distinguish between colors on your website. Someone who is color blind, for example, might not be able to determine blue text off a black background – since to them, blue shows up as black so that it would look the same.
So, while your contrasted blue text might be readable on one screen by one person, it might be entirely unreadable for someone else or on a different device.
That’s what we’re going to do today – we’re going to dive into what color contrast is, who does it help, and why you need to prioritize it in your designs. Creating designs with accessibility color contrast considerations from the get-go will save you a lot of time and money down the line, so let’s dive in.
Understanding Color Contrast for Accessibility.
Let’s get a bit nerdy and begin by defining what color contrast is. Color contrast refers to the visual difference in luminance between two colors. That means the difference in darkness and brightness between the two and how they interact with each other. The human eye perceives the world in terms of light, with brightness representing light’s power and darkness representing the total absence of light.
Now let’s dive a bit deeper. To understand color contrast combinations even more, let’s talk about contrast ratio. The contrast ratio is the amount of light or the absence of it present in color. Contrast ratios can range from 1 to 21. Commonly this is written as to 1:1 to 21:1, primarily if you use an online tool to measure it.
Alright, we got that out of the way. Now you are set up to understand this better. Color contrast will determine whether or not people can read your website. Otherwise, your site will become inaccessible to people with low vision, color blindness, some disability, or even people with temporary visual impairments like an eye infection, vasospasm, retinal migraine, and others.
What is a good contrast ratio for accessibility?
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recommends a minimum contrast ratio of 3:1 and a maximum of 4.5:1 for standard text and images. In addition, for people with color vision deficiencies, the W3C recommends a maximum brightness difference of 3:1.
Color contrast is essential when viewing text on a background image, when the main content is part of an image, or when someone with a visual impairment notices blurry or difficult to read.
Chances are, by now, you already have a solid understanding of what color contrast and color accessibility mean. So, you’ll naturally gravitate towards colors that look good together, but also colors that make your text readable and not strain your eyes.
It is important to remember that the extremes can also hurt. Given what we just learned about contrast, it would sound intuitive to try to score the highest contrast scale possible for your designs to stay compliant, right?
That sounds like very sound logic to me… until we consider it a little bit further. Have you ever been told not to watch a movie on your laptop or phone? If you have done it, you can probably relate to finding yourself squinting and straining your eyes. The reason is that the high contrast between a bright screen and dark surroundings may cause eyestrain or fatigue that could lead to a headache or even vision loss over time. It doesn’t only happen when we watch movies. It also happens when we look at (laptops and phones or any light-emitting device with a strong color contrast).
Your best bet with color accessibility is to keep both of these factors in mind when working on your site. You don’t want the contrast to be so low that people can read anything and get their eyes strained or fatigued—But you probably don’t want to make it so bright that it literally hurts and causes people to go blind. So, try to keep it goldilocks friendly. Not too bright, not too dark, just right!
It helps More Than You’d Think.
While, yes, anyone who comes onto your site will appreciate the clear, legible text. You’re particularly helping those with visual impairments or disabilities who need to have the gap bridged for them. But also, there are more benefits to consider.
For example, they can view your content on an array of mediums like phones, tablets, and under any other circumstances like:
- Various lighting conditions, such as sunlight and glare.
- Can reduce eye strain for people working under harsh lighting conditions (natural daylight, office lights).
- Content is easier to read by everyone, not just those with specific visual needs.
If you want to reduce eyestrain, you’ll integrate colors that won’t stress your eyes. Reducing eye strain means keeping people on your website longer, which converts to sales, or more clicks, or whatever you’re looking to get on your site.
A Few Tips to Get You Started
So, you’re ready to get started – but where do you go about doing that?
First off, don’t overthink it. A lot of this will be intuitive – in fact, almost half of it should come naturally to you. Things that are attractive to most people are that way for a good reason—and if you follow your intuition, you’re likely not wrong. But, let’s assume you are. Let’s say that’s what got you into this trouble in the first place—and you need a good jumping-off point for your impending over-haul?
Keeping these tips in mind can be helpful.
- It’s not about avoiding specific colors but ensuring effective use of color and ensuring appropriate contrast. Here is one of my favorite tools.
- In terms of color deficiencies, there are several types to consider, such as red on green or vice versa. The same goes for blue on yellow or yellow on blue.
- It’s recommended that regular text has a minimum contrast ratio of 4.5:1. In contrast, large text (18–point or 14-point bold) has a minimum contrast ratio of 3:1.
I know there’s a lot to learn about what it takes to create an accessible web design that includes people with disabilities. But I hope this post has made the whole subject a lot easier for you to understand.
I’m eager and excited for you to share your thoughts on this topic in the comments. And of course, feel free to reach out if you have any questions or want some advice on making your website work better for everyone who visits!
Here are some best practices that can make your life easier when getting started.
Select your color palettes at the beginning of your design process to avoid painful rework and suffering for your users. Since there is no “one size fits all” for colors. It would be helpful to provide a feature for your user to select their preferred color options.
For example, you can offer a dark and light mode to your website to cover all of your bases. It’s an extra step, but it can take a long way.
Also, avoid flashing or flickering content. Not only is it an eyesore, but it may irritate or set off photosensitive viewers or those who rely on consistent design to not upset their eyes.
There is a lot to learn about what it takes to create an accessible web design to ensure it includes people with disabilities or visual limitations. Still, with this article, I’m hoping you’ll be able to consider the subject a bit more carefully. Hopefully, it makes a little more sense for you now.
If you want more information on web accessibility and why you should care, make sure you check out our blog. If you’re going to want to see more videos like this, leave us a like and make sure you subscribe to the channel with post notifications on so you don’t miss a video!