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The web should be available for everyone to use, but this is not always how it works. Many people who suffer from color blindness, from blue-yellow color blindness to red-green color blindness, may struggle with issues stemming from color contrast if your site is not designed with accessibility in mind. Those with visual impairments may struggle with the color combinations you choose if you do not have an accessible color scheme. 

As the web continues to grow and change, so too do accessibility requirements such as ensuring there is enough contrast in your color palette. To provide web color accessibility, you may need to check things like your minimum contrast ratio or the background colors you use on your site. If you are struggling to ensure your site is meeting not just legal requirements but general accessibility goals, the team at Accessibly – Accessibility App is here to help. 

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Accessible colors and their role in web accessibility

Accessible color schemes, color contrast ratio requirements, and color accessibility guidelines may be entirely new to you. Many people who are unfamiliar with these guidelines may struggle to understand what makes accessible color combinations, but color accessibility is more than a stark contrast, like black text on a white background. It is a color contrast ratio that helps those with low vision or color blindness, a type of visual impairment, navigate and read your website. 

According to WCAG 2.1, accessible colors are vital to color-blind users and those with low vision because they keep normal text on the page available to all, which can be crucial in providing information. Without those tools, some users may be unable to use your website at all. It can also land you in legal hot water. 

What Are Accessible Colors? 

Accessible colors include any that have a high contrast between the colors used for text and background. Generally, using light and dark colors contrasts nicely. For example, red and green are common choices that accessibility experts warn against using because these colors are both light and can be difficult to differentiate for color-blind users. 

This is also why blue is commonly used for hyperlinks. Blue provides a strong contrast to a white background, which is a common form of differentiating between clickable and normal text. In web design, this can be both efficient and accessible for many users.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines: What You Need to Know 

The web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG 2.0) are a series of guidelines for minimum contrast requirements to make web design easier to navigate for visually impaired users. These guidelines have tools to help you choose a brand color palette that is still accessible for users, using hex values or other tools to measure the color values of visual elements. These tools can be vital when choosing colors for text and interactive elements on your website.

What Is a Minimum Contrast Ratio? 

The minimum contrast ratio is the minimum amount of difference that a web page can have between your text and background elements. Even large text and plenty of white space cannot make up for a lack of contrast. Certain color combination choices can be worse in terms of contrast, especially for those with certain types of color blindness like red-green color blindness. 

However, that does not mean that your text must be pure black or always be on a pure white background. Different color palettes can include ADA-compliant colors and strong color contrast ratios while looking stylish and distinct. However, web content accessibility guidelines state that your website color scheme must have contrast ratios of at least 4.5:1.

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Other Elements Can Play a Part in Accessibility 

Choosing ADA-compliant colors is only the start of the accessibility process. While understanding the color wheel and how different users see the color spectrum is useful, it is not the only indicator of web accessibility. Pay attention to other details like incidental graphic elements, font, and text size.

These other elements can play a big role in a stronger focus on web accessibility. Color schemes and other visual elements, like graphical objects, can help your users better navigate your website. Adding a magnifying glass button, for example, can give your users an easy way to magnify text. 

ADA compliance and the requirements related to color contrast

When dealing with user interface components and ensuring your website is color accessible, the requirements go beyond the WCAG guidelines. You may also need to ensure your website is ADA-compliant. If it is not, public and private businesses may face lawsuits and penalties for this failure. 

The ADA requires a minimum contrast ratio to be met to meet accessibility standards. This is a public accommodation that can help all users better see the content of your site. Below, we do a deep dive into why you may choose certain colors, how these may be identified using hex codes, and what you can do for ADA compliance. 

Choosing Text and Background Colors that Everyone Can See 

One of the first steps towards accessibility is to choose text and background colors that contrast strongly with one another. If the colors do not contrast strongly enough, it can be difficult to differentiate between the two. This is often a problem for two bright colors being used together, or two colors that have similar values. 

While using black text on a white background, or vice versa, is the most commonly used high-contrast option, it is not the only one. Accessibility tools offer color palettes that can offer high-contrast options based on your brand colors or chosen palette. These tools can also give you ideas for color palettes and give you specific numbers for contrast ratios, meaning you know exactly whether your website would pass accessibility standards.

Choosing a Color Palette with the Right Contrast Ratio

When choosing the right color palette, keep in mind that a combination of light and dark colors can provide sharp contrast that helps your users better see your content. Low contrast ratios can make color palettes blend together, which can impact the user-friendliness of your site. Fortunately, there are many color palette options with beautiful combinations that will look great without sacrificing accessibility. 

Keep in mind that your color palette can and should be chosen with color blindness in mind, not just low vision users. For example, some accessibility tools can allow you to check your colors to see if they are at a high enough contrast that color-blind users will still be able to see them. You can also try using background elements such as patterns to help distinguish one area from another.

Best practices for selecting accessible colors for text and background combinations

When selecting accessible colors for your website, one of the best practices is to simply ensure that you are choosing high-contrast colors. Typically, this means a light background with dark text on top. You can also use a dark background with white text. 

Typically, websites should strive for at least a 4.5:1 ratio for the text on their websites. However, a contrast ratio of 7:1 is more accessible to more users. While your site will not face penalties for meeting these minimum ratios, it is best practice to strive for more accessibility to avoid alienating users or needing major adjustments in the future.

Tools and resources for ADA-compliant colors

When choosing ADA-compliant colors, there are a few resources at your disposal that can help you make these decisions. For example, there are multiple color-picking tools that provide specific information about whether your contrast ratio is high enough. You simply add the hex codes of the colors you would like to use, and the program calculates the contrast ratio for those colors. 

There are also some color palette generators that can be used to generate specific types of high-contrast, accessible color palettes. Whether you are looking to use specific colors, or whether you need inspiration, these tools can provide countless ideas for a full color palette. You can also select high contrast options for color-blind users, pastel options, and more.

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Common mistakes to avoid when designing for accessibility

When designing with accessibility in mind, it is easy to make mistakes that could help accessibility in one way while hurting it in another. For example, you may have focused your attention on the contrast levels of your text, but you may have also chosen a font that is difficult to read for low-vision users. Because of this, we have gathered a few common mistakes that we see besides low-contrast color patterns:

  • Keyboard traps
  • Text in images
  • Content structures that are difficult to navigate
  • Vague links
  • Interactive design elements that require complex interactions or animations

Designing your website for accessibility goes far beyond the colors you choose. Accessibility is an ongoing process that is not only required by law but is a vital tool to make your website as easy to navigate and use as possible. These critical design choices can make a big difference for your users.

Additional accessibility considerations beyond color choices

Color choice is only the beginning of your accessibility journey. Beyond color choice, other elements can impact how readable the text is on your site, like alt text, which contributes to the accessibility of images. If the text is not readable for a fair portion of your user base, it can make your site almost impossible to navigate. 

One of the biggest accessibility considerations you can make beyond color choices is font size. Many people struggle to read small text, especially those with small desktop screens, low vision, or other obstacles that can be alleviated with magnifying text. Accessibility guidelines suggest that any text on your website should be scalable to 200 percent of the original size. 

Accessibility should also consider the way those with assistive technology, such as keyboard focus tools and screen readers engage with your website. This assistive tech works differently than your traditional keyboard and mouse, so you may have different design concerns. For example, if someone is unable to use a mouse, requiring a click or multiple clicks can make your website difficult to navigate for them.

The impact of accessible colors on user experience and inclusivity

While accessibility is a complex and ongoing conversation, seeing the effect of making these choices is easy. Many users who were previously unable to use certain features on different websites are now able to more freely access the information they need. That can be a massive quality of life improvement, especially when accessing crucial information. 

Keep in mind that your users may experience changes in their accessibility needs at a moment’s notice. Accidents, illness, and age can all impact your vision, and they can mean that more of your users need these accessibility considerations. Adding them now makes for a more inclusive present and future, removing some of the stigma regarding disability and accessibility requirements.

Taking these steps means taking more steps toward a more accessible internet experience. When users can more easily navigate the web, it gives them more freedom to find the information they need, access exciting new places, and even add to the information already there. That creates a richer and more inclusive environment for everyone.

Future trends and developments in the field of web accessibility

Many projects continue to develop, continuing the conversation around web accessibility now and in the future. This is vital as tech continues to change throughout our lifetimes. New technology trends will need to be adjusted to fit the needs of all users, not just those who do not need accessibility tools. 
At Accessibly, we focus on building a better future for all internet users. We offer tools and programs as part of our features list that help websites make their user experience more accessible for everyone. To learn more about the features we offer to our clients, contact our team or start a free 7-day trial – no credit card required!

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