Overview of Color Contrast and Its Role in Web Accessibility

Remember how common it was for websites in the early 2000s to use illegible script fonts and vivid color text on light backgrounds? Web pages like this are sadly still widely available. These websites have a problem with unreadable writing due to poor color contrast. Poor color contrast may make it difficult for everyone to read the material on a website, not just those with vision impairments.

What is Color Contrast?

Color contrast is an essential and fundamental aspect of facilitating digital accessibility. The term “color contrast” describes the visual difference between the foreground (the font) and the background (the color of the space around the text). In order to ensure that everyone is able to read the fantastic content you’ve created for your website, it’s important to choose colors that contrast appropriately with the typeface.

Why is it required?

In order to view content on a website, people with poor vision, low contrast vision, or color vision impairment will need color choices that are compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Think about the growing likelihood that a large portion of the population will fit into one of those visual groups as the world’s population ages. A simple color scheme that doesn’t stress the eyes is appreciated by everyone, not just those with visual impairments.

How can I achieve color contrast compliance?

Before we jump in, let us understand the basics first:

What are color contrast ratios?

A color contrast ratio is a quantitative measure of the visible intensity difference between a foreground object and its backdrop.

Understanding the WCAG success criterion 1.4.3 is crucial since it specifies the level of contrast that is typically accepted as being accessible. According to the criterion, the contrast ratio between regular text and any pictures of text must be at least 4.5:1, while the contrast ratio between normal text and big text (18 point or larger, or 14 point or larger and bold) must be at least 3:1.

Level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) specifies a minimum contrast ratio of 4.5:1, whereas Level AAA specifies an “improved” ratio (success criterion 1.4.6) that calls for an even greater degree of contrast. In order to achieve the improved ratio, a contrast of 7:1 is required. Remember that these precise values, like other WCAG checkpoints, are not made up at random, but rather are intended to increase the number of individuals who can use your website. For people with 20/40 vision, the 4.5:1 ratio should be enough, while the 7:1 ratio should accommodate those with around 20/80 vision. Don’t forget that Levels A and AA conformance are the norms.

Keep in mind all users from the inception

Visual representation of different types of disability

When developing a website, ensure that it is created with all users, including people who have disabilities, from the beginning. It is simpler to construct a website with all audiences in mind the first time than to fix every problem retroactively.

Here are a few guidelines for ensuring that color contrast is not an afterthought:

  • Don’t overlook navigational components, footnote sections, menus, and any other location with which users will see or interact. In order to be functional, these elements must all be visible.
  • Always consider color palettes and brand colors before creating brand colors. If designers lack access to accessible color combinations, it will be difficult for them to produce compliant designs.
  • Before a product enters development, colors must be reviewed and tested in the design process. This helps reduce wasteful rework and provides more time for important updates.
Visual representation of level AA and level AAA requirements of contrast ratio compliance.

Wrapping up

Here is a simple table to help you easily understand the color contrast ratio

Conforming to color contrast criteria is one of the most significant accessibility factors, yet it is often a simple fix. Talk to experts at AEL Data if you need assistance with color contrast or want to learn more about what we can do to help you achieve accessibility compliance.

Picture of Aditya Bikkani

Aditya Bikkani

Aditya is the COO of AELData, a growing technology company in the Digital Publishing and Education sectors. He is also an entrepreneur and founder of an accessibility tool called LERA. A W3C COGA (Cognitive and Learning Disabilities Accessibility) Community Member Aditya contributes to researching methodologies to improve web accessibility and usability for people with cognitive and learning disabilities.

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